|Madeleine Flannagan wrote: "Also, movies like Star Wars, the Matrix hardly projected secularistic futures." |
Don't forget Dune. However, I think that the exceptions prove the rule. Generally, science fiction as a culture is based on the rational-empiricism that is contrary to faith and force. It is, after all, science fiction. As a genre it has been lumped lately with horror and fantasy. However, they are distinct, just as a western is not "historical fiction" and a murder mystery set in ancient Rome is a murder mystery and not "historical fiction." The "steam punk" story Difference Engine (Bruce Sterling and William Gibson) is science fiction, not historical fiction. Science fiction has rules of its own. Like all artistic schools, the rules are interpretable. (When was Beethoven "romantic" and did Shostakovich really write a "Classical" Symphony?) Science fiction has several broad definitions. This is the one I like: Science fiction shows the effect on people of a new invention.
Like all "dictionary definitions" it is limited and limiting and invites discussion. It does explain why science fiction is inherently secular -- even when it is "religious."
The essential conflict between reason and religion was first -- if not best -- explained in Sophocles's Oedipous Tyrannos. We call that Oedipus Rex, but he did not call it Oedipus Baslieos. The point of the story was the illegitimate and unnatural hereditary claim of Oedipus to the kingship of Thebes and the tension between that fact and the fact that he came to Thebes as a tyrant: a self-made ruler who earned his right to rule. (We use the word "tyrant" in a modern sense that it did not have 2500 years ago.) In Oedipus, there are three points of view: Iocrastra is a fatalist; Tiresias speaks for the gods, of course; Oedipus is rational man. This thread continued in Western literature, was revitalized in the Renaissance, and continues today. The other views -- predominantly in the West, the Jewish traditions -- may be independent of this, historically, but also have been assimilated into the Western cultural tradition.
The best example I can cite for the non-western religious tradition in science fiction is Philip K. Dick's Man in the High Castle. The viewpoint character is a mid-level Japanese diplomat in San Franciso whose encounter with unexpected violence reflects the global violence in a world where the Axis won World War II. The best example I can cite for the western -- and therefore secular -- religious tradition in science fiction is Cordwainer Smith's "Instrumentality" stories because his all-ruling and yet humanly fallible Instrumentality of Mankind was a reflection of his Anglican Church beliefs.
If you read science fiction. You probably have your own examples. They stand out as exceptions. For all of its many roots in fantastic voyages by Greeks and Romans, science fiction was born specifically in the industrial era in the works of Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle and H. G. Wells. (Conan Doyle, of course, also invented another product of capitalism: the private detective story.) If you want to savor the culture that created science fiction, read engineering and science magazines from the 1880s and 1890s. (You may need a big city or university engineering library to find them.) New elements were being announced... experimental television existed ... new astronomcal bodies were revealed ... our galaxy was suddenly not the Universe... the atom was comprised of particles ... Leewenhoek's "animicules" were the origins of disease and the creators of wine... Gigantic bridges, tremendous railways, rapid steamships, and even submarines and flying machines... all of that at more...
I believe that eschatology comes too easily to Objectivists. Our primary document is the story of a man who shuts off the motor of the world. The negative "sense of life" in Atlas Shrugged contrasts with the ascension that defines The Fountainhead. The so-called "Dark Ages" of European history were a peculiar interpretation by historians seeking to define their own time. In contast, always interested in the history that supports numismatics, I was happy to find Merchants and Moneymen: The Commercial Revolution 100-1500 by Joseph Geis. The book opens with the story of a trader going from Italy to Constantinople -- in the so-called "Dark Ages." Previous and current banknotes of Iraq have honored Abu Ali Mohamed ibn al-Hasan Ign al-Haytham (also: ibn al-Haitam, also: Alhazen, or Alhazan), lived 965-1039, a physicist and mathematician. His relatioship to "Islam" is probably no more firm than Newton's to "Christianity." It is true that Cambridge of 1000 AD was not the place to do good physics. If you want to avoid the darkness, you must follow the sun.
Science fiction is a world of heroes whose success comes from intelligence. At MIT in the Spring of 1968, I heard Isaac Asimov say, "Ayn Rand stinks." That was a hard blow to those of us who enjoyed the Foundation Trilogy with its merchant princes. They were right in line with Heinlein's D. D. Harriman, "the man who sold the Moon." Heinlein also wrote "religious" science fiction. In Fifth Column religion was a ruse for an underground that was fighting a conqueror. In Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein explored less definable ideas.
Religion is something that people "do." It would be odd if nothing religious appeared in science fiction. By the same standard, it is perhaps inconsistent within Objectivism to speak of the human "spirit" or the "spirit of Ayn Rand." There may be something truthful in the emotional expression that whatever drives Howard Roark to create is not reducible to quantum wave fields. On the other hand, Objectivism and science fiction share the assumption that whatever that may be, it is knowable.
(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 7/30, 6:47am)