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© 1997 by Thomas C. Smedley

Science Fiction should be used to represent a future filled with hope, rather than despair

Imagine a boy poised on the brink of adulthood. The simple life of childhood is gone forever, blown away in the gusts of new powers, new feelings, new preoccupations. The terra incognita of adulthood looms ahead, with new privileges, new opportunities, new challenges. How can he sort through the vivid new intensities of life? The rash and conflicting emotions? The frightening changes going on in and around him? Can he send a competent surrogate ahead of him into that new realm, and, by watching the hero prevail, vicariously acquire the confidence he needs to make it himself?

The hero saga teaches youth how to behave in a comely manner; how to live worthily, in terms of the values of the tribe; how to steward new and magical powers, use them wisely, and overcome the dragons, trolls, and witches.

Science fiction is the modern hero tale, the literature of adolescent boys, a branch of juvenile literature. Consider the recurring themes:

  • New worlds
  • New powers
  • New challenges
  • Alien creatures
New worlds. We drop in on strangers when we are born. About the time we learn how to get along with the other members of the family, it's time to move out and forge our own way through the larger universe. Can the family's laws be extended into the world around us? Or, do we need to find an entirely new set of values?

A quirk of this century has been the notion that parents could raise children in two incompatible religions simultaneously. Children placed in public school grew up understanding that there was "religious" truth, and "scientific" truth. The secret to understanding the universe was to first set aside as irrelevant the Person, Son, Word, and Work of God. After all, look at all the marvels Science has providedus with! Since when did a Christian minister ever do anything of value in genetics?

But how is a man to live within the bleak, impersonal world of Darwinism? Since few Christians are aware of the mechanism Horace Mann set in place 150 years ago to steal Christian children right out from under the noses of their parents, the church sat out this particular struggle. Since man cannot live without meaning, though, the artists stepped in when the Church bowed out. The universe of the standard science fiction story is frankly evolutionary, reveling in the idea of continual improvement through continual struggle. Yet, within that imaginary context, the tale portrays a hero (or antihero) forging his way ahead, and imposing some kind of meaning on thechaos. Life can be good, even though ultimately pointless.

New powers. The new technology, whether developed by earthbound science, or alien artificat, is a standard feature of this genre. A kid who confronts disturbing new powers within his own body can delight in reading stories of other lives and cultures disrupted by new things. The standard plot is for the innocent, the everyman, who acquires said power to use it. Most of the time, the protagonist achieves new status by coming to terms with the new capability. Now and then, however, a Victor Frankenstein brings ruin upon himself and the world through his misuse of the dangerous gift.

New challenges. Providing for yourself and your family in the real world is a strenuous activity. Stephen Gaskin, new age guru, had a saying that went over well with his college audiences: "The amount of energy it takes to get by in class is so much less than what is required to make it in the real world that, the longer you stay in school, the dumber you get!" That is intimidating. We need the hero stories to nurture our souls, to build into us the conviction that challenges are there to be met and overcome.

Aliens. Something else happens when a boy hits puberty. He starts to notice that the girls he grew up around have become strange entities. Obsessively fascinating, yet remote. Desirable, yet unattainable. Creatures with their own agendas, that do not coincide with his. How do you negotiate a rapprochement? How do you acquire and develop an entirely new set of relational skills? Is it any wonder that this obsessive concern of the adolescent male should be metaphorically dealt with time after time in our generation's imaginative literature? (A disturbing recent trend has been the eschewal of sublimation. Much of what is out there today is frankly pornographic.)

Of course, all generalizations are false. This is but a thumbnail description of the dynamics that drive the genre. Although there are believing Christians who practice the art, their name is few. Paul Lineberger, writing under the pen name of Cordwainer Smith, was a high-church Anglican whose theological concerns shaped his art. C. S. Lewis wrote speculative allegory, rather than literature that used the sciences as major themes. Clifford Simak was a practicing Catholic who presupposed the Darwinian time scale. Gene Wolfe, a living writer, is a Reformed Christian. The best known religious writer currently on the scene is a Mormon, Orson Scott Card. He honors the name of Jesus in his stories, and presents religious people as worthy of respect. A poignant expression of his Mormon faith shows up in his "return to Earth" series, where the protagonists have a devout relationship with a deteriorating man-made deity.

Far more typical are giants in the land such as Isaac Asimov, who was president of the American Humanist Association, and died a committed atheist. Robert E. Heinlein, who eschewed his Baptist roots upon discovering Darwin's "Origin of Species" at age 13. Ray Bradbury, another former Baptist who still used themes from that culture. For the standard science fiction writer, religious faith is irrelevant at best, malignant at worst.

Unbelief did not prevent the best of the breed from writing wholesome stories of adventure. I would have no problems introducing my son to Asimov, or to the pre-1966 Heinlein. Still, to be honest, I am relieved that my children do not share my literary tastes. As my 12 year old daughter said after reading the back of a paperback book, "Dad you read weird stuff! You need to read more wholesome literature!"

Yet, the market is there. The need is there. Adolescent boys are still trying to come to terms with new and disturbing powers. Science fiction is the literature of choice for the young minds that will grow up to shape our technological future. And, Reconstructionists are uniquely equipped to meet this opportunity.

When fundamentalism committed itself to a no-future future, the humanists were glad to claim the discarded trifle for their own. For a while, writers populated their Darwinian futures with characters who were motivated by derivative religious values. That moral capital has been consumed. The bleakness of the current weltanschuung opens the door again for people who have a vision, who have a passion, who believe that they and their grandchildren truly have a future.

God gave Christianity a thousand years to develop its distinctive civilization in Europe, before giving His people a whole new world to occupy for His glory. God gave us another 500 years to carry the ball forward in this part of the world. Has He also hung the next step before our eyes? The first meal taken on the moon was the Lord's Supper. I ask God to let the day come when I'll be able to look up into the sky at night, and pray for descendents pursuing their callings on the moon. Or even, perhaps, on Mars. In the meantime, I ask for grace to present the heros of the future with a future as big as the promises of God.

Last updated: 12 April 2006
Updated by: Matt Bynum