Sunday, November 16, 2014

Two Topics In Search of a Venue

I have written recently about the question Is science fiction dying? To paraphrase and reverse Doctor McCoy's claim, I'm a blogger, not a doctor. I can't say whether science fiction is dying or not. If it is, I can suggest causes: We have arrived at the future and it ain't what it was cracked up to be. Readers have become disillusioned with science. They are disappointed that all the things that were promised us by science have not come about. They have turned away from the future or have given up hope. Science has become Scientism, atheism, or materialism, beliefs of religious intensity that claim that all things can be explained in purely material terms by the priests of Science. If the religions of Scientism, atheism, and materialism are correct, then nothing can be irrational (except certain numbers), there can be no mystery, and all things can be, must be, and will be explained by science and science alone. Put another way, if the goal of science is to answer all unanswered questions, solve all unsolved mysteries, and explain all unexplained things, and if all questions, mysteries, and unexplained things will in the end yield to scientific inquiry, then where does that leave the very human and very essential need for mystery? If the universe is purely material, then, in the end, we will be living in a kind of experiential entropy, a universe entirely evened out by science, devoid of any further questioning, searching, or striving. Granted, if the universe is purely material (I'm certain that it isn't), it will still take a long, long time for science to answer all questions. But who looks forward to the eradication of mystery from our lives and experience? I prefer--and I believe most people would prefer--mystery to all-knowledge. Maybe that's one reason why fantasy is preferred to science fiction these days. One alternative to having science fiction die is for believers to give up on their faith in Scientism, atheism, and materialism and to allow mystery its essential place in the universe. Another is for people to be hopeful and to turn their eyes once again to the future, disregarding the doom the doomsayers say. A third (which probably overlaps the second) is for people to go on believing in God, humanity, love, and a mysterious universe.

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I have also written about contemporary science fiction as running out of options in that, if you give up hope for the future, you're reduced to either dystopia or apocalypse. There are other options that I didn't consider. One is science fiction about a sort of gray, quotidian misery or despair. That seems to be the course our serious literature has taken. Having given up on faith, hope, and family, many people in the real world have gone down that same path. Another is science fiction about inversion or self-absorption, a dead end if ever there was one, in storytelling as well as in real life. Of course despair and self-absorption can lead to dystopia and apocalypse. We see signs of that in our contemporary culture. Maybe the end point of despair is inevitably apocalypse as it passes through violence and dissolution. Maybe the end point of self-absorption is inevitably dystopia as it passes through self-loathing and a loathing of all humanity. Maybe that's all carrying the theorizing too far.

A third option for science fiction is religious or Christian science fiction, a sub-genre about which I know almost nothing but that seems to me must be built upon hope. You might say that the idea of the future comes from religion, perhaps more specifically from Christianity, which turned history from endless cycles into an arrow flying through time. We hear of scientific, technological, social, political, and economic "progress." Where would any of those things be without the very Christian ideas of progress and faith in the future? In the end, maybe science fiction without Christianity is an impossibility. That's not to say science fiction should be Christian. But how can science fiction--or anything else for that matter--carry on without hope, or, as Donald A. Wollheim called it, faith in an infinite future?

Love in the Ruins (1971) is a post-apocalyptic novel by Walker Percy, ordinarily a writer of what's called "serious" literature, i.e., definitely not science fiction (although the apocalypse in the book is pretty mild as apocalypses go). Percy was a convert to Catholicism, as were G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, Tennessee Williams, Dean R. Koontz, and, indirectly, J.R.R. Tolkien. (He joined the Catholic church as a child when his mother converted.) C.S. Lewis was a convert from atheism to Christianity (as is Anne Rice). If you're drawing up a list of Christian science fiction and fantasy writers, his name should probably come first. All wrote genre fiction, including mysteries, spy novels, science fiction, and fantasy. Tennessee Williams contributed to Weird Tales as a teenager.

Copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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