Urthona - A Journal of Buddhism and the Arts

Urthona Sci-Fi and Fantasy issue

Posted by Ratnagarbha on Mon, 28 August, 2017 - 11:50
Ratnagarbha's picture

Please let us know if you have any thoughts about a Buddhist perspective on this kind of literature, or any author recommendations – apart from the obvious ones.

Science Fiction and Fantasy allow unfettered licence to the imagination. This can be liberating but also it has drawbacks. Many books in these genres lack emotional depth, and get lost in the details of building an alternative world or worlds. On the other hand there is the opportunity to deal directly with universal archetypal themes – heroism, betrayal, the quest for truth and beauty, the unmasking of comfortable illusions of self and world – that are not easily dealt with directly in genres that are tethered to what we think of as ‘realism’. So we want to seek out the best writing there is in this area, particularly from contemporary authors, and ask what it has to offer spiritual seekers in the 21st century.

It has been quite a learning curve for me looking into this area as I have not explored it since I was a teenager. So far as I can see there is a great deal of very fine recent science fiction out there. I have enjoyed reading Venor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, Dan Simmons The Hyperion Cantos (a sci-fi version of the Canterbury Tales) and Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station. 

However the fantasy genre seems to be quite moribund to me! It has been taken over by the Grim-Dark Game of Thrones type of fantasy almost completely it seems. There are a few  rather whimsical English fantasy books from the last few decades such as those by William Horwood, but that it is it apart from Phillip Pullman – we have covered him in issue 19 but may return to him in this or a future issue.

So do let me know if you feel I have missed out on any other fantasy authors after Lewis and Tolkien who have moral and imaginative integrity, or if you have any science fiction recommendations that we might have missed.

I’m aware of the book ‘Dharma of Demon’s and Dragons’ on a Buddhist approach to this literature, which is useful if a bit superficial in my view, and we will build on what Loy did there. 

Our plans so far include a piece on the novelist Nicola Barker, hopefully an interview with Christopher Priest, something on ‘The inklings – Tolkien, Lewis, Williams, something on Phillip K Dick, and possibly to reprint an interview with LeGuin we did about 15 years ago. Movie wise we have a piece on some classic alien encounter movies such as ‘forbidden planet’, and a review of the recent release ‘Arrival’. We would of course like to cover the seminal work of spiritual / cosmic science fiction: Olaf Stapleton’s ‘Star-maker’.

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abhayasiddhi's picture

Hi Ratnagharba,

I would like to suggest a couple of names not in your list, but probably being considered i.e. to somewhat state the obvious, Michael Moorcock and J.G. Ballard.   

Sorry can’t help you with contemporary writers, though I have read some good SF in recent years. Many female writers nowadays and co-writing of SF novels. Often the term Speculative Fiction is used, which is sometimes preferable to SF, as it doesn’t always include “science”.

I borrow books from the local library, and enjoy a lot of what I read, but unfortunately I tend to forget the authors names quickly. If I read anything soon worth mentioning I’ll make a point of noting the names!



Candradasa's picture

Hi Ratnagarbha,

Last spring and summer I recorded a two-part podcast (over 2 hours in total) with Suvajra on his history with sci-fi, fantasy and speculative fiction. We are planning to use it as part of our next round of feature-length episodes of Buddhist Voices. Be great to tie in with this somehow!

We’ll also soon be starting an Arts blog here on The Buddhist Centre Online. We’ll set things up so anyone following it sees your posts from Urthona (even if they aren’t following this dedicated Urthona space). Just add the tag “Arts” to any posts and the system will pick it up and do the rest!

love, Candradasa

Sarvatajnana's picture

Hi Ratnagarbha, one of my favourites regarding moral and imaginative integrity is R. Lee Smith, especially the “Lords of Arcadia” series (fantasy) and “The Hour of Gann” (scifi).

Ratnagarbha's picture

Many thanks for the recommendations everyone. And yes I do hope we can tie in with the interview with Suvajra, which is a timely coincidence as it turns out.

mischa's picture

Ursula K. LeGuin (Earthsea, The Dispossed) immediately comes to my mind and then there are several novels by Doris Lessing (like The Marriages between the Zones …) which may fit. Also, I am wondering about Stanislav Lem’s rather philosophical SciFi stories & novels. Anyway, I am really looking forward to 2018 issue now that I know it’ll be about SF (and maybe that’ll inspire me to write something about related issues, too) :-))) with metta, mischa

Monika Urbanik's picture


“The sword of the truth” series of Terry Goodkind. 

“Downward to the Earth” of Robert Silverberg.


Vijaya1's picture

Hi Ratnagarbha,

Arthur C Clarke has held a fascination for me ever since seeing the movie 2001 as a teenager and actually spending time with him in Sri Lanka in the 80’s. We started a dialogue - unfinished - that I’d like to try and pick up on. He was influenced by Olaf Stapleton and had an interesting take on Buddhism. As we approach the 100th anniversary of his date of birth (Dec. 1917) now’s a good time to challenge myself to do this. If my writing is up to spec for your publication you might like to consider this?

Do you have details of word count and deadlines? Thanks, Vijaya

SallyG's picture

My thoughts …

Science fiction/speculative fiction – it feels to me that interest in these topics, especially popular interest in these types of fiction, is one of the mechanisms through which the human race prepares itself to come to terms with the potential that we have.  It helps us to consider the ways in which we can utilise, explore, adventure, pioneer our way forward in a collective way.  

If/When we do actually venture out into space – it is going to be like we think, and much weirder than we have ever speculated.  But exploring the potential will help us to negotiate the actual fact of it.

To explain this in another way … people who survive disasters, especially sudden ones, are very often those who have thought up coping strategies – the actual disaster scenario may never have featured in their imaginings – but the fact that they have thought it through clarifies their thoughts and actions.

Humans as a species are always pushing boundaries – this is one of the ways in which we start that process.

It’s also what we do for ourselves as individuals when we sit to meditate.

Tom Schulte's picture

Talhia Newland writes a number of  books in a sci/fi genre with a buddhist message. I like the Lethal Inheritance series a lot. She also writes books and blogs on meditation.

sheppy58's picture

Hi Ratnagarbha,

i don’t have any suggestions but what I’d like to offer is gratitude to you and your team for creating such a wonderful publication. The magazine is always excitingly awaited at the Cardiff Buddhist Centre. I’ve just read some of our back issues including issue 26 (Summer 2009) and found a wonderful article by Vishvapani titled golden Sunflowers talking about some of the figures from the 19th and 20th century (Richard Wagner and John Cage- to name two) who have been influenced by many of the Buddhist scriptures and tales.

Each and every one of the Urthona publications is well worth a visit or re-visit as they offer so many interesting and informative articles. 

With metta and thanks.

Sue/Cardiff Sangha


Sadayasihi's picture

Hi Ratnagarbha,

That sounds fascinating.  One book to mention is “Children of Time” by Adrian Tchaikovsky - it’s science fiction.  Interesting themes of evolution and individualism- what would a civilisation involving highly evolved spiders look like - that might sound a bit daft but it was intriguing, beautifully written and I found the ending very moving.  Really worth a read,

With Metta,


Ratnagarbha's picture

Well there is a coincidence I have just started reading that book!

Sadayasihi's picture
Serendipity! In that case I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
SallyG's picture

The book that made the most impact on me was ‘Pebble in the Sky’  (Isaac Asimov) – because it introduced me to the poem ‘Rabbi Ben Ezra’ – which related to a lot of themes in my life – including life, death and faith.  Themes that flow through Buddhism too.  At one and the same time it also taught me that having a faith/belief was not wrong, or something to be ashamed of (my view until then).  It also hooked me on SciFi.

I became addicted to Asimov’s works, that made me aware that a story could be written and that I could write one.  His work lead me on to the works of LeGuin and McCaffrey who showed me that women could write good stories too.  Anne McCaffrey inspired me to try writing – and I’m still writing.

Ratnagarbha's picture

That is interesting to hear I did not know Asimov included any poetry in his work, although I did read the Foundation books years ago. I’m currently reading SF by Becky Chambers and have started Central Station by Lavie Tidhar. 

Simone Deiringer's picture

Hello Ratnagarbha,

I recommed a recent published Netflix series “Sense8” where so called ‘clusters’ of eight awakened people are linkt with their thoughts, emotions and doings…