MESSIAHS

   In the MYTHOLOGY of the Old Testament the Messiah is the deliverer of prophecy, destined to lead the Jews to their salvation; the New Testament claims that Jesus was the Messiah. The term is applied by analogy to any saviour or champion whose arrival is anticipated, hoped for or desperately needed. Because Christian images of the future have always been associated with ideas of the Millennium and the Apocalypse, a preoccupation with messiahs in the futuristic fiction of Western culture is only to be expected. Many HEROES in sf play quasimessianic roles, but there is a more-or-less distinct category of stories which deals specifically with this aspect of Judaeo-Christian religion.Early sf featured numerous messianic political fantasies, including H.G. WELLS's When the Sleeper Wakes (1899) and Victor ROUSSEAU's The Messiah of the Cylinder (1917); themost literal of these is M.P. SHIEL's Lord of the Sea (1901). Earnest futuristic religious fantasies of the same period featuring messianic figures include Guy THORNE's And it Came to Pass (1915) and Upton SINCLAIR's They Call me Carpenter (1922). William Hope HODGSON's "TheBaumoff Explosion" (1919; vt "Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani") strikes a more sceptical note in describing a re-enactment of the crucifixion which goes hideously wrong. There is little or no trace of messianic mythology in the sf PULP MAGAZINES until the 1940s, when it became possible for a SUPERMAN to play a quasimessianic role, as in DARKER THAN YOU THINK (1940;1948) by Jack WILLIAMSON. What Dreams May Come (1941) by J.D. BERESFORD likewise features a superhuman messiah, although The Gift (1946) by Beresford and Esme Wynne-Tyson is a more straightforward religiousfantasy. L. Ron HUBBARD's Final Blackout (1940 ASF; 1948) has an inordinately charismatic hero who may qualify as a messiah. Ordinary men sometimes take on similarly charismatic roles when they are transplanted into PARALLEL WORLDS, as in Henry KUTTNER's The Dark World (1946 Startling Stories; 1965) and James BLISH's The Warriors of Day(1953).Messiah-figures increased in popularity when Millenarian fantasies became newly fashionable in the wake of the Bomb. C.S. LEWIS's trilogy of interplanetary religious romances was concluded in That Hideous Strength (1945), in which a messianic role is assumed by Merlin, though he is ineffect an agent only of the trilogy's true messiah figure, Ransom. Christ first appeared in GENRE SF in this period - in Ray BRADBURY's "The Man" (1949) - but it was not until the 1960s that TIME TRAVEL was used toconfront Christ's life (and death) directly. In Michael MOORCOCK's BEHOLD THE MAN (1966 NW; exp 1969) a time traveller takes Christ's place. BrianEARNSHAW's Planet in the Eye of Time (1968) features a time-trip to witness the crucifixion; Garry KILWORTH's "Let's Go to Golgotha" (1975) uses a similar notion to construct a heavily ironic parable, as does Gore VIDAL's Live from Golgotha (1992). Another protagonist who becomes Christis featured in Barry N. MALZBERG's The Cross of Fire (1982). In Philip Jose FARMER's "Riverworld" (1966) the crucifixion is re-enacted in thehuman race's new incarnation. The most notable story featuring a re-enactment of the crucifixion on an alien world is "The Streets of Ashkelon" (1962) by Harry HARRISON. Nativity stories are more common; theyinclude Robert F. YOUNG's "Robot Son" (1959), Edward BRYANT's "Eyes of Onyx" (1971) and John CAMERON's The Astrologer (1972).The theme ofredemption through sacrifice is more or less explicitly linked to Christian mythology in many sf stories, including Robert F. Young's"Redemption" (1963), Cordwainer SMITH's "The Dead Lady of Clown Town" (1964), Harlan ELLISON's "'Repent, Harlequin!' said the Ticktockman" (1965) and R.A. LAFFERTY's Past Master (1968); Robert A. HEINLEIN's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND (1961) also belongs to this category. Clifford D. SIMAK's Time and Again (1951; vt First He Died 1953) features a resurrection of sorts as well as a sacrifice, as do Thomas M. DISCH's CAMP CONCENTRATION (1968) and Jack Williamson's Firechild (1986). Explicit (andmostly ironic) sciencefictional accounts of the actual Second Coming include Edward WELLEN's "Seven Days Wonder" (1963), J.G. BALLARD's "You and Me and the Continuum" (1966), Damon KNIGHT's The Man in the Tree (1984), Philip Jose Farmer's Jesus on Mars (1979) and Theodore STURGEON'sposthumous Godbody (1986).More enigmatic messiahs, who offer little in the way of redemption, are featured in Vidal's Messiah (1954; rev 1965), Robert SILVERBERG's The Masks of Time (1968; vt Vornan-19 1970 UK), BrianM. STABLEFORD's The Walking Shadow (1979), Stuart GORDON's Smile on the Void (1982), Somtow Sucharitkul's (S.P. SOMTOW's) Starship and Haiku (1984) and Kim Stanley ROBINSON's The Memory of Whiteness (1985). A fake messiah, used as a political instrument, is featured in Robin SANBORN's The Book of Stier (1971). An enigmatically sinister "messiah" is featuredin Philip K. DICK's THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH (1964), but later Dick novels, including A Maze of Death (1970), play in ever more complex and constructive fashion with messianic figures - a process which culminates in The Divine Invasion (1981). The most elaborate messianic fantasy in modern sf, however, is that in Frank HERBERT's DUNE (1965) and its sequels, following the career and posthumous influence of Paul Atreides, messiah to the desert world Arrakis. Herbert has also deployedmessianic mythology elsewhere in his work, notably in The Jesus Incident (1979) with Bill RANSOM. Another writer constantly fascinated by messianicmythology is Roger ZELAZNY, whose many fantasies in this vein include "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" (1963), LORD OF LIGHT (1967) and Isle of the Dead(1969). Many of Zelazny's messianic fantasies take a broadly syncretic view of such figures, linking them to mythologies other than the Christian one; a similarly generalized theory of messianic revivification is featured in James KAHN's Time's Dark Laughter (1982).The most significant contemporary religious fantasy about a messiah is James MORROW's brilliantly bitter Only Begotten Daughter (1990), which cleverly deploys sf motifs alongside more traditional imagery. Jack WOMACK's Heathern (1990 UK) is another almost seamless alloy of sf and religious fantasy.
   BS
   See also: GODS AND DEMONS.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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