Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Science Fiction

Hello Reader!  Today I'm going to go on a rant.  Be prepared.

I'm incredibly mad at  Yes, it is a science fiction blog and thus may have a little bit more authority on what is and isn't science fiction.  But why is it that when a science fiction show decides to cross boundaries and morph genres, it is lambasted by the science fiction acolytes that once salivated over it like dogs?  Is it a classic case of the servant ruling the master?  Or is it just plain hubris on the part of science fiction writers and readers?

It could be both, but seeing as how I'm in the mood to rant I'm going to have to say it's the latter.  Science fiction does not and cannot box itself in, deliberately trying to restrict itself to the conventions of technology.  For if there ever was a time when religion is prevalent in society, it is now.  And all good art is a reflection of the time in which it was created.  Right?  I like to think so.

Anyways, I do not think that tossing religion into science fiction is heresy.  Rather, I think religion can strengthen a science fiction novel, tv show, movie.  It presents a dichotomy between that which can be explained, and that which cannot.  For those shows that are good, I mean.  For those shows that are great, science and religion intertwine to create a mishmash of the explainable and unexplainable.  Science CAN explain religion, and religion CAN explain science.  It's absolutely possible, and while Battlestar Galactica was an imperfect prototype of this model, it was by no means a betrayal of the genre.

By now, you're probably wondering what spurred this whole diatribe.  This article is what did it, as it bends over backwards to dump on God as a plot device.  The gist of it is that God in Battlestar Galactica is an improper device to explain many of the strange events that occur in the characters' lives.  God is unexplainable, that is the very definition of God.  It has rules, but can break them at any time.  It can even change its rules.  The writer of the article then compares this to Lost, and its God figure Jacob.  As a conduit for the show's mysticism Jacob serves as an explanation of the God-like powers that swirl around the island and is its stubbly, pouty face.

What beef I have with the article is that the writer states clearly that one path is better than the other.  That's only if you're a whiny kid who needs an answer to everything.  That's only if you approach the show, novel, movie as a work of hard science, grounded in steely contraptions and whizzing parts.  But Battlestar - along with Lost - has always carried with it a proud badge of mysticism, one that screams fantasy.  Does that negate it as a piece of science fiction?  Not in the slightest.

Because science fiction is not just the novelization of a scientist's greatest fantasy, or the serialization of a physicist's grandiose experiment.  Science fiction is the creation of a world programmed around its own internal history that seeks to answer questions about the essential elements of our humanity.  You do not need robots in science fiction, and aliens are extra credit.  What you need, and what is sorely lacking from many science fiction novels of today, is humanity.  Surrealism is perfectly acceptable, but if you're trying to say something about the human condition you had better damn well include a bit of humanity in your work.

To deny that the human condition involves religion or faith is stupid.  Just plain stupid.  Even the denial of religion is an involvement of religion.  If I'm going to write a realistic science fiction story, which indeed is my goal, I'm going to have to face the facts: religion is a huge part of people's lives.  Sure, you may say that religion is waning.  Atheists and agnostics are more and more Europe.  But in the rest of the world, religiosity is reaching a fever pitch!  (To debate whether this is wrong or right, go here).

Anyways, I'm digressing like no other.  My beef was with io9 complaining about God in science fiction, and not having answers explained with whizbang scientific theories that fit in snugly with logic.  Well, Battlestar was trying for something.  It was shooting for depth, it was shooting for characterization, it was aiming for that elusive hybrid story of religion and science.  Maybe it didn't get there, but it was damn near perfect when it swung for the fences. 

When science fiction blurs the line between logic and faith, and asks the audience to come to its own conclusions, rather than feed some mythos to the reader/viewer, that's art.  That's drama, and that's beautiful.  If there's anything that my story aspires to do, it's to throw surreal situations at real characters and depict in the starkest detail their reactions to the hurly burly surrounding them.  I want to be like Battlestar, I want to blur the line between God and the machine.  If I do, if I accomplish this Herculean task, I'll have created something that speaks volumes above a novel or movie or television show.  I'll have connected to reality.  To get there then, my success depends on you. Until next time then.


  1. This is the reason why I think agents would gobble you up if they could actually talk to you about your story. It’s because you want to do something awesome, something that is maybe a bit harder but is so much truer to the genre, but isn’t really something that fits into the query letter formula.

    SO many Science Fiction writers just focus on how clever they can be with their technology and the resulting product is one dimensional characters and prosaic plotlines. I’m not surprised that you would reach for something higher, but I am impressed.

    Also, the reason why science fiction and religion traditionally don’t get along? Because it is written by atheists or other people who are struggling with the idea of God. Writers can do a lot in taking on the role of the ‘other’, but one that I find is a hard thing for writers is making their characters or situations religious if they themselves are not. Also, for some reason people associate scientific progress with “moving past” God, which is probably a Catholic fault since Western scientific advances were made only by boldly defying the church…and also as we have become more scientific, the West has become more atheist. It’s just an extension of what they already know, basically.

    Which is fine, naïve but fine. Religion is such an intrinsic part of who humanity is that it would be strange to think it would just fade away, especially when we aren’t anywhere near the secular world that some people think we are. Also, I have a theory that even those who are firmly in the scientific/no religion (at least laymen as opposed to scientists, for I haven’t had much of an opportunity to observe them) mindset are still religious…for they follow science in a similar way to that of the religious people...

    As I said though: informed religious people and actual scientists follow a different path in terms of thinking than those who are one way or the other just "because"... oh, too much to say in such a small place. I'll leave it at that.

  2. Anonymous1:54 AM

    I am, for all intents and purposes, an atheist, but I agree with you here. How is it that aliens who look humans are plausible but some higher being not? Sci-fi nerds fail and should go back to jerking off to sex with blue, reptilian, humanoid female aliens.