Friday, July 25, 2008

Church of the Crab Nebula

Let's look at something a little different. What role does religion play in speculative fiction? It's an interesting question that depends on the scope of the definition of religion.

One of my recent reads was Robert J. Sawyer's Calculating God. In this novel, we learn that there are two alien races in Earth's neighborhood and roughly the same technological level of Earth. The two alien races have compelling evidence that the universe was designed by God. They think Earth's religions are silly.

Going back a few years (and taxing my memory), look at Philip Jose Farmer's Father to the Stars. This is the story of a clergyman on an interstellar voyage.

Religion is an integral part of human society, and it will likely be in the future, too. Some writers recognize this, others seem to ignore it. Granted, some stories don't need religion. My own first novel contains few if any references. It's a near future story that relies largely on the readers' experience of the world. On the other hand, in my "Stars" universe religion plays a major role in the lives of one alien race.

When you are creating a new world, using religion can help develop a rich and colorful world.

Look at Robert L. Forward's Dragon's Egg. We follow the development of the cheela, a race that lives on the surface of a neutron star. (Cool concept, but off topic.) We get to watch a religion form, evolve, and die. It adds considerable flavor to the story, and makes the cheela more real to us.

This is a totally different use of religion from the Christian Fiction genre, where religion is the point of the story. In SF and fantasy, it's best used as one dimension of a multi-dimensional story. At its best, this dimension can give the reader food for thought, but the writer needs to respect the reader, too. Nothing will turn off a spec fic reader faster that preaching.


^JR^ said...

I agree. Religion certainly has a place in speculative fiction. It makes for a great point of conflict, definetly. In stories where religion is a main component, there is either multiple religious points of view butting heads (which, oddly enough, mirrors real life. Go figure), or an oppressive ruling body working to quash a religion because it threatens the establishment. Occasionally, you see the reverse of this, but not not often enough, IMO.

These are all tried and true uses of religion in fiction that still make for great reading, if done with a fresh take on them. People love to read about religion--particularly religion in conflict, I think.

Even though its out of the genre in question, THE DAVINCI CODE is a great example of this. While I thought it wasn't great writing, it was about something that is a huge point of contention in our society and (I thought) it had a fairly original spin on it. It all depends on the point of the story and how religion is used in it.

^JR^ said...

You mentioned CALCULATING GOD. I've never read it, but the title reminds me of something I put in a story.

I had a character write a program for a college class that would calculate the probability of divine influence on an event based on data entered by the user.

Not practical, of course, but I got a chuckle out of it.


Rick Novy said...

CALCULATING GOD has a lot of interesting ideas to ponder.