Familiar DEFINITIONS OF SF imply that there is nothing more alien to its concerns than religion. However, many of the roots of PROTO SCIENCE FICTION are embedded in traditions of speculative fiction closelyassociated with the religious imagination, and contemporary sf recovered a strong interest in certain mystical and transcendental themes and images when it moved beyond the TABOOS imposed by the PULP MAGAZINES. Modern sf frequently confronts age-old speculative issues associated with METAPHYSICS and theology - partly because science itself has abandonedthem. Speculative fiction always tends to go beyond the merely empirical matters with which pragmatic scientists concern themselves; perhaps something called "science" fiction ought not to include metaphysical fiction, but the genre as constituted obviously does.It was the religious imagination of people such as Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) which first envisioned an infinite Universe filled with habitable worlds, and it was visionaries like Athanasius KIRCHER and Emanuel SWEDENBORG who first journeyed in the imagination to the limits of the Solar System, and beyond. John WILKINS, who first supposed in all seriousness that people might go to the Moon in a flying machine, was a bishop, and so was Francis GODWIN, the author of the satirical cosmic voyage The Man in the Moone(1638). Other early speculative fictions were attacks upon religious cosmology and religious orthodoxy by freethinkers such as CYRANO DE BERGERAC, VOLTAIRE and, later, Samuel BUTLER. Mary SHELLEY's Frankenstein(1818) takes its imaginative inspiration from the image of the scientist as usurper of the prerogatives of God. The boldest of all the 19th-century speculative fictions, Camille FLAMMARION's Lumen (1864; exp 1887; trans 1897), was the result of the astronomer's desperate need to reconcile andfuse his scientific knowledge with his religious faith. J.H. ROSNY aine, the prolific writer of evolutionary fantasies, also saw the object of his work as an imaginative revelation of the divinely planned evolutionary schema, and he too wanted to remake theology so that it might be reconciled with modern scientific knowledge - a task later taken up by the heretic Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). C.H. HINTON's stories and essays about the fourth DIMENSION were inspired by the notion that a four-dimensional God might be omniscient of everything that has ever or will ever take place in our three-dimensional continuum. Marie CORELLI re-envisaged God as an entity of pure electric force in A Romanceof Two Worlds (1886). John Jacob ASTOR's A Journey in Other Worlds (1894), Jean DELAIRE's Around a Distant Star (1904) and John MASTIN's Through theSun in an Airship (1909) are among many novels borrowing the literary devices of SCIENTIFIC ROMANCE to dramatize cosmic voyages whose real purpose was to "justify" theological dogmas. Edgar FAWCETT's The Ghost of Guy Thyrle (1895) does not hesitate to engage its hero in conversationwith a messenger from God at the edge of the Universe.In virtually all late-19th-century and early-20th-century speculative fiction the antagonism of the scientific and religious imaginations - sharpened by controversies regarding Darwinian EVOLUTION, socialism and humanism - is evident, whether the thrust of the narrative is toward reconciliation or conflict. Many of the early UK writers of scientific romance-notably George GRIFFITH, M.P. SHIEL, William Hope HODGSON and J.D. BERESFORD -were the sons of clergymen who converted to free thought and used their fiction to justify and explore the consequences of their decision. Guy THORNE's When it was Dark (1904) and Shiel's The Last Miracle (1906) bothfeature rationalist plots to discredit Christian faith, although the authors take up very different positions in extrapolating the consequences. In Robert Hugh BENSON's Lord of the World (1907) a humanist socialist woos the world to his cause, but proves to be the Antichrist; its companion-piece, The Dawn of All (1911), offers an alternative vision of a UTOPIAN future in which people have renounced such heinous heresies as materialism, humanism, socialism and protestantism. Some humanists were equally prepared to turn religious imagery to their own purposes: H.G. WELLS brought a new kind of angel to Earth to observe the sins of mankindin The Wonderful Visit (1895); his later flirtation with a reconstituted faith-explained in God the Invisible King (1917) - led him to produce a new Book of Job in The Undying Fire (1919), and towards the end of his life he rewrote the tale of Noah in All Aboard for Ararat (1940). A similar interest in "alternative theology" is central to the work of Olaf STAPLEDON, whose STAR MAKER (1937) explores a vast cosmic schema, andculminates in a vision of God the Scientist, constantly experimenting with Creation. C.S. LEWIS co-opted the methods and ideas of scientific romancefor his theological fantasies OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET (1938), Perelandra (1943) and The Great Divorce (1945 chap). In France Andre MAUROISconfronted a SCIENTIST with proof of the existence of the soul in Le peseur d'ames (1931; trans as The Weigher of Souls 1931); and the Austrian Franz WERFEL wrote Stern der Ungeborenen (1946; trans as Star of theUnborn 1946), a bizarre futuristic SATIRE promiscuously combining ideas from the scientific and religious imaginations. The dedicatedly sceptical philosopher Bertrand RUSSELL produced the VOLTAIRE-esque contes philosophiques "Zahatopolk" (1954) and "Faith and Mountains" (1954), two vitriolically scathing treatments of organized religion and faddish cults. This long tradition of theological and antitheological speculative fictionextends into recent times in such works as John CAMERON's The Astrologer (1972), Romain GARY's The Gasp (1973), E.E.Y. Hales's Chariot of Fire(1977), Bernard MALAMUD's God's Grace (1982), Jeremy LEVEN's Satan (1982), Theodore STURGEON's Godbody (1986) and James K. MORROW's Only Begotten Daughter (1990).If speculative fiction in the MAINSTREAM has always been as much concerned with the visions of the religious imagination as with those of the scientific imagination, within GENRE SF religious issues were for many years excluded by editorial TABOO. One pulp subgenre to be exempted was the "Shaggy God" story, often dealing with ADAM AND EVE; writers mostly played safe by scrupulously avoiding the New Testament. Godlike aliens were treated with circumspection, Clifford D. SIMAK's TheCreator (1935; 1946) finding a home only in the semiprofessional MARVEL TALES. The future evolution of institutionalized religion was considered in Robert A. HEINLEIN's "If This Goes On . . ." (1940), in which a tyrannical state of the future operates through an Established Church headed by a bigoted fanatic - a recurrent image in sf. Heinlein's Sixth Column (1941 as by Anson MacDonald; 1949; vt The Day After Tomorrow),based on a John W. CAMPBELL Jr story whose original version was ultimately published as "All" (1976), shows the USA overthrowing Asian conquerors by means of a fake religious cult - another recurrent image. Fritz LEIBER amalgamated the two ideas in GATHER, DARKNESS! (1943; 1950), in which the tyrannical rule of a state religion is overthrown by a cult masquerading as witches and warlocks. ROBOTS sceptical of what humans tell them about Earth construct a new faith for themselves in Isaac ASIMOV's "Reason"(1941). But all these religions were mere superstructure: the theological issues remained untouched. In the pages of UNKNOWN, Campbell's authors used angels, GODS AND DEMONS with gay abandon, but such stories as Henry KUTTNER's "The Misguided Halo" (1939) and Cleve CARTMILL's "Prelude toArmageddon" (1942) were conscientiously playful in dealing with the apparatus of the Christian mythos. Only A.E. VAN VOGT's The Book of Ptath (1943; 1947 vt Two Hundred Million A.D.) came close to serious speculationabout metaphysics.After WWII there was a spectacular boom in sf stories which, without any trepidation whatever, cut straight to the heart of theological matters. The space travellers in Ray BRADBURY's "The Man" (1949) follow Jesus on his interplanetary mission of salvation, while thepriests in "In this Sign . . ." (1951; vt "The Fire Balloons") encounter sinless beings on Mars. A robot in Anthony BOUCHER's "The Quest for St Aquin" (1951) emulates St Thomas Aquinas in logically deducing theexistence of God, thus justifying its own - and the author's - adherence to the Catholic faith. In Paul L. Payne's "Fool's Errand" (1952) a Jew finds a cross in the sands of Mars. In James BLISH's classic A CASE OF CONSCIENCE (1953; exp 1958) a Jesuit interprets the axioms of his faith toinfer, heretically in the Manichaean style, that an alien world is the creation of the Devil, and that it must be exorcised. In Lester DEL REY's "For I Am a Jealous People" (1954) alien invaders arrive to takepossession of the Earth, having made their own covenant with God and become his chosen people. In Arthur C. CLARKE's "The Star" (1955) spacefarers discover the wreckage of inhabited worlds which had been destroyed by the nova that shone over Bethlehem. Philip Jose FARMER's THE LOVERS (1952; exp 1961) features a future Earth whose social mores derivefrom the "Western Talmud"; its sequel, A Woman a Day (1953; rev 1960; vt The Day of Timestop; vt Timestop), continues an earnest exploration offuture religion. Farmer's "The God Business" (1954) is a phantasmagoric, pantheistic fantasy whose hero ends up as a deity; and the same opportunity is offered to a conventional Churchman in "Father" (1955), part of a series featuring the priest John Carmody, whose conversion as a result of authentic transcendental experience is described in Night of Light (1957; exp 1966), and whose eventual mission is the subject of "AFew Miles" (1960) and "Prometheus" (1961). The most impressive single work to come out of this boom is Walter M. MILLER's A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ (1955-7; fixup 1960), which describes the role played by the Church in therebuilding of society after a nuclear HOLOCAUST. Even stories like Robert A.W. LOWNDES's Believer's World (1952; exp 1961), James E. GUNN's ThisFortress World (1955) and Poul ANDERSON's "Superstition" (1956), which deal with fake or misguided religious cults, exhibit a far more sophisticated view of the SOCIOLOGY of religion than "If this Goes On . . ." or Sixth Column.Blish, tempted to try to explain this remarkablephenomenon by his own involvement with it, wrote the notable essay "Cathedrals in Space" (1953 as by William Atheling Jr; incorporated intoThe Issue at Hand, coll 1964), citing the stories as "instruments of a chiliastic crisis, of a magnitude we have not seen since the chiliastic panic of 999 A.D.", and drawing a parallel between them and the boom in atomic Armageddons - a parallel made explicit by Boucher and Miller and spectacularly developed by Blish himself in Black Easter (1968) and The Day after Judgment (1970). The supposed panics of AD999 were in fact amyth invented by much later apocalyptic writers, but the argument holds good. The advent of the atom bomb in 1945 was a revelation of sorts, and the 1953 invention of the H-bomb gave to each of two ideologically opposed nations the power to annihilate the entire human race. The interest in theological issues, and in metaphysical issues in general, prompted by the acute sense of existential insecurity to which this awareness gave birth became gradually more powerful, though often less explicit. The 1950s also saw a remarkable proliferation of images obviously allied to religious notions but shorn of their association with actual religious doctrine. Arthur C. Clarke has said that any religious symbolism or imagery inCHILDHOOD'S END (1950; exp 1953) is "entirely accidental", although the text itself refers to the climax as an "apotheosis" and the events described there are strikingly - but coincidentally - similar to Teilhard de Chardin's notion of the coming-together of displaced planetary "noospheres" at an apocalyptic "Omega Point". Clifford D. Simak's Time andAgain (1951; vt First He Died) is similarly free of formal doctrine, although the alien symbionts which infest all living things are obviously analogous to souls (ESCHATOLOGY). In later works by Simak - particularly A Choice of Gods (1972) and Project Pope (1981)-religious ideas do becomeexplicit, and here again there are strong echoes of a Teilhardian schema. Sf works explicitly based on Teilhard's ideas are George ZEBROWSKI's TheOmega Point Trilogy (2 parts published 1972, 1977; omni, including 3rd part, 1983) and Gene WOLFE's The Book of the New Sun (1980-83) and The Urth of the New Sun (1987 UK). The syncretic approach of these stories,which blends the religious and scientific imaginations, contrasts with uncompromising stories using TIME TRAVEL and other facilitating devices directly to confront the central symbol of the Christian faith: the crucifixion. Richard MATHESON's "The Traveler" (1962) visits the scene in order to find faith. The heroes of Brian EARNSHAW's Planet in the Eye of Time (1968) go there to protect faith from subversion. The protagonists ofMichael MOORCOCK's Behold the Man! (1966; exp 1969) and Barry N. MALZBERG's Cross of Fire (1982) must become Christ and suffer crucifixion in search of redemption for themselves. The time tourists of Garry KILWORTH's "Let's Go to Golgotha" (1975) discover the horribly ironictruth about the condemnation of Christ. More oblique treatments of the motif can be found in Harry HARRISON's "The Streets of Ashkelon" (1962) and Philip Jose Farmer's Jesus on Mars (1979).There was a very noticeable change, too, in the attitude of sf writers to ALIEN religion. Before WWII, it was taken for granted that all such religions were misguided, ripe for SATIRE and open mockery; after WWII sf writers were prepared to treatalien beliefs reverently, and frequently to credit them with a truthful dimension which Earthly religion lacked. In Katherine MACLEAN's "Unhuman Sacrifice" (1958) missionaries to an alien world find that the"superstitions" they set out to subvert are not as absurd as they assumed. In Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND (1961) religious ideas imported from Mars become important on Earth. In Robert SILVERBERG's Nightwings (1969) and Downward to the Earth (1970) humans seek their own salvationvia the transcendental experiences associated with alien religion, although his Tom O'Bedlam (1986) is more ambiguous in its treatment of a cult based on visionary experience of an alien world, and "The Pope of the Chimps" (1982) is highly and ironically ambivalent. In D.G. COMPTON's TheMissionaries (1972) alien missionaries bring an enigmatic offer of salvation to mankind. Poul ANDERSON's "The Problem of Pain" (1973) is a fine conte philosophique about the relativity of values deriving from human and alien religions. Satan is portrayed as a wise and misunderstood alien in Harlan ELLISON's "The Deathbird" (1973), which argues that the story of the Fall is a fraud perpetrated on us by God. In the first part of Gregory BENFORD's and Gordon EKLUND's If the Stars are Gods (1974; fixup 1977) alien visitors seeking a new sun-god allow a man to share their enigmatic communion with our SUN. In George R.R. MARTIN's "A Song for Lya" (1974) humans again seek and find transcendental experience in alien ways. The first section of Dan SIMMONS's HYPERION (1989) deals with an alien religion based in the effects of alien PARASITISM (or perhaps symbiosis). Alien gods are treated with much greater suspicion in Zebrowski's "Heathen God" (1970), Ian WATSON's extraordinary God's World(1979) and Ted REYNOLDS's The Tides of God (1989), which is robustly unsentimental in proposing that if God is an alien the best thing we can do is get out there and destroy Him.Sf also became increasingly eager to look at religious experience from the "other side", exploring the experience of being a (or even the) God. This notion was tentatively developed in pulp stories about scientists presiding over tiny creations, including Edmond HAMILTON's "Fessenden's Worlds" (1937) and Theodore STURGEON's "Microcosmic God" (1941), and in "Shaggy God" squibs likeFredric BROWN's "Solipsist" (1954) and Eric Frank RUSSELL's "Sole Solution" (1956). It received more serious consideration in Farmer's "The God Business" and "Father" and in Robert BLOCH's intensely bitter "The Funnel of God" (1960), and was more elaborately explored in a number of novels by Roger ZELAZNY, notably LORD OF LIGHT (1967), Creatures of Light and Darkness (1969) and Isle of the Dead (1969), and in Frank HERBERT's The God Makers (1972).The sf writer who has dealt most prolifically withissues in speculative theology is Philip K. DICK, whose long-standing fascination was brought to a head by a series of unusual and possibly religious experiences which he underwent in the early months of 1974. Novels like Radio Free Albemuth (written 1976; 1985), comprehensivelyreworked as VALIS (1981), are attempts to get to grips with these experiences. The development of Dick's theological fascination can be tracked through such works as "Faith of Our Fathers" (1967), GALACTIC POT-HEALER (1969) and A Maze of Death (1970), and culminate in The DivineInvasion (1981) and the non-sf The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982).Artificial religions and cults still crop up regularly in sf, sometimes deployed for satirical purposes, as by Kurt VONNEGUT Jr in THE SIRENS OF TITAN (1959), Cat's Cradle (1963) and Slapstick (1976),sometimes in the cause of thoughtful extrapolations in the sociology of religion, as in This Star Shall Abide (1972; vt Heritage of the Star) by Sylvia Louise ENGDAHL. Keith ROBERTS's PAVANE (coll of linked stories1968) and Kingsley AMIS's The Alteration (1976) are both ALTERNATE-WORLD stories endorsing the thesis of Max Weber (1864-1920) regarding the Protestant Ethic and the spirit of capitalism by displaying an unreformedCatholic Church dominating a Europe where the Industrial Revolution is only just getting under way in the 20th century. Roberts's Kiteworld (fixup 1985) is one of the more memorable sf images of oppressiveTheocracy. More earnest explorations of possible developments in future religion include Richard COWPER's Kinship series begun with the novella "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" (1976). A number of books excoriate futuretheocracies, particularly fundamentalist ones, such as The Stone that Never Came Down (1973) by John BRUNNER, recent examples of the assault onfundamentalism being Parke GODWIN's Snake Oil series, beginning with Waiting for the Galactic Bus (1988), and several books by Sheri S. TEPPER,notably Raising the Stones (1990). Conversely, in several of Orson Scott CARD's novels a thinly disguised version of Mormonism is depicted with autopian glow. In contemporary sf, however, perhaps the most sophisticated and detailed treatment of a future religion is The Starbridge Chronicles by Paul PARK, beginning with SOLDIERS OF PARADISE (1987), in which the seasons of a generations-long Great Year encourage contrasting faiths.There are several interesting theme anthologies, including Other Worlds, Other Gods (anth 1971) ed Mayo Mohs, Strange Gods (anth 1974) edRoger ELWOOD, An Exaltation of Stars (anth 1973) ed Terry CARR, Wandering Stars (anth 1974) ed Jack DANN (a collection of Jewish sf), The New Awareness: Religion through Science Fiction (anth 1975) ed Martin H. GREENBERG and Patricia S. WARRICK, Perpetual Light (anth 1982) ed Alan Ryan, and Sacred Visions (anth 1991) ed Michael CASSUTT and Andrew M. GREELEY.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.


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