Who Hijacked My Sci-Fi?

Who Hijacked My Sci-Fi?

In the last few years, the science fiction genre has lost a few good authors, Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury at the top of the list. It’s got me thinking about my own love of science fiction.

Among Catholics, Sci-Fi has to be one of the most popular genres. Of course, it’s one of the most popular in the world, but it has been, traditionally, very Catholic in nature. Think about the themes it takes on. Everything has a philosophical angle that demonstrates well the Catholic perspective. Book-burning in Fahrenheit 451? Despite the occasional book-burning by some Catholics, the Church has played a huge role in the preservation of literature over the centuries, including vast stores of literature she sharply disagreed with. The equal sharing of misery by way of pseudo-equality? The unsettling tale of Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron rings true with the Church’s teaching on the special gifts and contributions of each man. How about conflicts and serious questions about the morality of sophisticated technology on the battlefield? The Church has dealt with those quandaries, too. Human cloning? Yep, the Church has dealt with that topic, too. Science vs. Religion? Yep. Eternal life? You betcha!

Sci-fi shares with the Church an uncanny ability to ask the right questions of the culture at large.

One of the best television series of all time, The Twilight Zone, dished out one serving after another of intensely gratifying science fiction. My favorite episode, The Obsolete Man (on Neflix if you’re interested – season 2, episode 29), is nothing short of eerie in its portrayal of the perfect dystopia, a sort of satire on utopia specific to the sci-fi world (sorry, St. Thomas More). Its striking questions on faith and fear, human dignity, and man’s need for God, are what awoke in me a great love of Sci-Fi that went beyond an appreciation for cool special effects or intriguing quantum theories.

A sonic screwdriver was found at the scene of the crime.

Who hijacked my sci-fi?

For the last couple weeks, I’ve been happily plugging away at another recent sci-fi series. It’s very entertaining, visually clean, and asks the right sort of questions for me to ponder away at full speed. Unfortunately, it also involves assumptions about the future that paint a very materialistic and immoral view of human nature. Gay marriage is accepted. Inter-species marriage, too. Elements of transhumanism, a dangerous up and coming philosophy in our own time, are present and accounted for as well. I feel like the best genre in the world has been hijacked by people who want to dictate instead of questioning.

Dr. Who remains a decent expression of science fiction, but almost accidentally. Rather than challenging the impact of the modern world on the human experience, as science fiction once challenged communism, the series accepts, assumes, and gives full weight to the growing philosophical belief that we must transcend our human nature. Instead of gaining insight through an episode’s critique of modern ideas, I’ve learned to gain insight by my critique of the show itself.

Beginning with Dr. Who, it’s possible to look back and see this problem in other sci-fi shows, if in seminal form. In much of modern science fiction, it is assumed that humanity is heading toward an idealized society that looks an awful lot like what Euro-American socialism is trying to accomplish: free healthcare (at the cost of goodness knows who), “liberated” sexuality, government-as-surrogate-parents, science triumphant against religion, and the peculiar absence of families. It leads me to wonder if the sci-fi community is just as dangerous as the news media in pushing the progressive agenda. Get out the nerd vote, perhaps? Then again, if the fans of modern science fiction delved deep enough into their favorite genre, they would see the danger inherent in trusting an image on a screen. Wouldn’t it be an ultimate irony if the very totalitarian government Vonnegut tried to warn us about* managed to assert its dominance through his own medium?

As a Catholic, I’m begging the science fiction community to open its eyes and start questioning again. Sci-fi has always been an instrument for the betterment of the same humanity the Church exists to serve. The enemy isn’t the family or traditional society or faithful Christians, nor is the ideal society something as lame and existentially empty as free healthcare and an iPod in every pocket. Your genre was all about questioning the trends of your day, all about being counter-cultural. There is nothing on this earth more counter-cultural than the Church.

Here’s a call to all you fiction writers out there: why not develop a sci-fi series in the tradition of your forebears? Critique the modern view of society. Ask what could possibly go wrong, and let all the world see the results. Show it with the macabre twists that make the pit of your stomach writhe and twist in a sort of horrified compassion for the characters who have no choice but to suffer the unforeseen consequences of their own decisions. Let’s hijack sci-fi back for the Catholic worldview.

Check out this video trailer for 2081, a short adaptation of Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron (the full movie used to be available for free, sorry, but I hope you’ll find a way to see it):

*Yes, I know Vonnegut was a liberal, but he wasn’t a totalitarian.

32 Comments

  1. Totally agree! I’ve been noticing this disturbing trend in Sci-fi as well, and Dr. Who is one of the worst offenders.

    Even worse, in my opinion, is the spinoff series Torchwood. What a twisted glimpse of humanity that is. It’s like everyone in the series is bisexual for one thing, and sleeping with most other characters on the show, despite some being married.

    Then they have the episode where a guy dies and they use a machine to bring him back to life. And he comes back ranting about how there’s no afterlife. This is an example of a show that exists to ram atheism and relativism into people’s subconscious.

    I’m so glad to see this article, because this trend needs to stop.

    • Fortunately, I read reviews of Torchwood and decided never to watch it.

      • Same here. Besides, I consider all Dr. Who after Tom Baker to be the science fiction equivalent of the Gnostic gospels.

  2. I’m not a Science Fiction expert, but it sounds like it’s becoming New Age rather than Science Fiction?

    • There is certainly some overlap these days.

      • Sci-fi has been “New Age” from its beginning.

  3. A similar contrast would be between Stargate SG-1 (in which Teal’c said he did not think the goa’uld could imitate the Christian God, and which contained a shockingly pro-life episode in which the Aschen destroyed human civilization through contraception) and Stargate Universe.

    • Indeed, I was fortunate to have been introduced to SG-1 by my wife, who covered my eyes in the series’ only nude scene, but I stopped watching SGU very quickly when I realized how sexualized it had become. Very disappointing.

    • I must ask, though, where did Teal’c say that the Goa’uld wouldn’t have imitated the Christian God? I’ve seen most episodes a few times and I don’t recall that.

      • Season 3 Episode 9, “Demons”, very early in the episode. The “Christianity” they encountered was distorted beyond belief, but there is precedent for that kind of thing (Japan under the shogunate). Also, note the anachronistic version of the St. Michael prayer.

  4. People write what they know and what they think they hope. Those who wrote of the unreality of Utopia understood it was an unreality, that the nature of humanity is such that even if every need is met, we will still commit sinful acts. Even if we whitewash every sin to say they are not sins, we will still experience the extreme isolation that comes from being fallen in a fallen world, especially if we pretend until we despairingly believe it, that there is nothing of value save as we ascribe it.

  5. There was a science fiction radio show in the 1950′s called Dimension-X. A bunch of the episodes were taken from Ray Bradbury stories. The are in the the public domain and available for free download. Google Dimension-X for more info.

  6. I have enjoyed most of the new series of Doctor Who, but I admit there were a few bits during David Tennet’s run that did bother me a fair bit. That being said, since Russel T. Davies handed off the show to Steven Moffett, the show has seemed to back off of some of the more disturbing themes.

    That being said, Science Fiction has always been a genre that has had a mixed relationship with faith. There is nothing in modern Sci-Fi that wasn’t at foreshadowed by the writing of some authors like Heinlein and Clarke. That being said, there have also always been others, who write with more explicitly Christian Themes.

  7. Thanks for writing this, Micah. I found you from New Advent.

    Why stop there? Let’s take back fantasy fiction as well, a genre championed of course by the legendary and devout J.R.R. Tolkien.

    While I must admit, I have not read the massively produced Game of Thrones books, I have researched the content and the author. It’s at once revealing of the fantasy genre’s resurgence in popularity, and sickening in the scope of the author’s willingness to indulge deviant sexual practices in the name of medieval ‘realism’.

    Let’s take back what was ours to begin with: good versus evil!

  8. “Let’s take back fantasy fiction as well, a genre championed of course invented by the legendary and devout J.R.R. Tolkien.”

    Fixed that for you.

    The entire fantasy genre didn’t really exist before J.R.R. Tolkien came on the scene with The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. He was the original D&D Nerd.

    Everything else that has come on the scene since has been a cheap, cardboard cut-out imitation of his work, everything from “Game of Thrones” to the game “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” for the XBox (An awesome game btw).

    • With respect, I don’t think we can say Tolkien invented the fantasy genre. While he certainly popularized it and and was probably the first author explicitly identified as a fantasy author, other authors, who preceded Tolkien wrote works that were by any reasonable definition, fantasy. Morris, MacDonald, Dunsany, Eddison and Howard all had published works that were clearly fantasy well before the publication of the Hobbit.

      • I have to agree with Maryland Bill on this one. Heck, fantasy fiction goes back at least as far as the voyages of Sinbad, which are apparently older than the Odyssey. It does seem that just about all fantasy now consists of bad imitations of Tolkien, though.

        • I am not sure we can necessarily look back at tales like Sinbad that predate the scientific revolution as really being fantasy. Yes, they were fantastic for the day, but the question was, would people have recognized them as being impossible in their world?

          In other words, when we read Tolkien’s Middle Earth, or Howards Hyboria, we are reading tales that are set in a world that may claim to be part of ours, but which both the readers and the authors recognize as fictional. I am not sure the same is true of Sinbad.

  9. I’m fond of Dr Who (especially the Second Doctor), but I’ve been concerned about the same thing. And, as it’s still considered essentially a children’s show, what we’re seeing is indoctrination. Of course, this isn’t something new. H.G. Wells was doing the same thing well over a century ago. That’s what caused C.S. Lewis to write his science fiction novels. I don’t think we need a new C.S. Lewis, or even more schlocky material “in the spirit of C.S. Lewis,” but in being the individuals the good Lord made us, we can tell our stories, give our audience a quality product with a Catholic world view, and make a solid difference by enriching (instead of beggaring) the culture.

  10. Another problem is that much used to be G or PG. Now sex iseverywhere. I read larry niven, but can’t now recommend him. Why? Penguicon is a compter-sci-fi convention, but it had a bizarre sex track this year. Why? Sci-Fi used to expand the mind. Sometimes in the wrong direction, but it made you think. Now it is just another cheap show.

  11. I have been watching Dr. Who for years and have to say that this hits the mark. The classic Dr. Whos were rich in this tradition of going against modern views of society in many of the episodes. While I like the look of the redo, it lacks that classic outlook. Much of that is due to the new showrunners. Russell T Davies is the one who brought it back to BBC and he is a gay writer and has left his mark on much of the show especially with “omnisexual” characters that do seem to get accepted way too much. The extent to which RTD wishes to push the gay agenda in his Sci-fi work is seen in Torchwood, especially the 4th season which was co-produced by american interests. I think RTD at least somewhat respected teh fact that Dr. Who was still considered kids TV and didn’t push the envelope. Torchwood is where he went beyond decency with much of his writing.
    IN some episodes of the new Dr. Who we do get serious issues. “The Satan Pit” had really interesting dialogue about the nature of evil and the idea of the Satan. There have also been a few good scenes where there is at least something of a just war ethic.
    All tolled my Catholic side is not as thrilled with the new Dr. Who but the stories are much better put together and the story arcs are much more intricate than in the past.
    The classic Who was better at keeping with the classic sci-fi themes. The new Who, at times, becomes the space equivalent of “Coupling” and could definitely use a better grounding in the classic style.

  12. I came across the link to this blog via New Advent. It is particularly timely for me.

    Years ago I wrote fantasy and some science-fiction. I was published in a number of the “better” small press magazines (remember them?)and a mass market paperback anthology.

    At the time I was a lapsed-Catholic, with strong agnostic-atheistic leanings, while still retaining what I would call a Catholic sensibility. I learned to assess how much of the sensibility was in a story before submitting it to certain editors. Many of them had an instinctual aversion for such work.

    Recently I returned to serious writing (and the Church). I have found that the situation seems to have calcified. Editors either want overtly Christian fantasy and science-fiction, or they want overtly secular-humanist (and often implicitly anti-Christian) work.

    Since my fantasy novel was less overt than the works of Lewis, but at least as implicit as Tolkien, it made submissions tricky (especially given the long time they hold submissions these days).

    In the end I self-published on Kindle and Createspace. This was something I had years ago sworn to never do, probably from a combination of pride and self doubt, but the reading world has changed. I would suggest that anyone who has confidence in their work (especially if some of that confidence comes from the enthusiasm of others for your work) to consider this option.

    Yes, there is a lot of bad self-published work out there, and it can potentionally suffocate the good work. However, it does offer the potential to swim against the agnostic-atheistic trend. Less explicit work, like that of Tolkien, can then indirectly expose readers to Catholic grace and sensibilities. At worst, if it’s a good story they’ll enjoy it for that. At best, it may cause a response from the grace within them.

    • Michael, would you care to share your work with others? I would love to read your work and support a self-published author such as yourself.

      • Daniel, self-promotion is an essential part of self-publishing (although it does not come naturally to me), but I’m not sure it would be appropriate to share the info. I wouldn’t want my post to seem a troll for business, as it were.

        I’m not sure what would be the proper etiquette for this blog.

        • Ah. It appears that if you click on my name it will take you to my wordpress blog. That shouldn’t be too inappropriate.

          • Ah so it does! Will check it out.

  13. Reverting to the 19th Century, both E.A. Poe and Jules Verne wrote stories and novels, some of which straddle the boundary between fantasy & sci-fi.
    In the early 20th century, C.S. Lewis’s material was fantasy – no extension of gadgets by extrapolating science of his day (in comparison to H.G. Wells). G.K. Chesterton wrote volumes, even some stories for children, but I don’t recall anything in the way of sci-fi in his work.
    Thanks for discussing the concept. It is difficult to write fiction without incorporating your own world view. G.K.Rowling, like Tolkien, seems to have an underlying Christian world view in her Potter series.
    TeaPot562

  14. I mostly watch just the Matt Smith seasons (David Tennant is not as good, IMO) and I do notice some bad stuff, and I don’t think it should be a children’s show, but I don’t think it’s as bad as some think. Maybe the David Tennant years were worse. Gay ‘marriage’ jokes are utterly depraved, but I can only remember a couple episodes where they played a prominent role; a couple anti-Christian references, and some innuendo. In all, not really more offensive than, say, Star Trek: The Next Generation, which certainly meets the criteria of the ‘idealized society’ you refer to. I can’t remember much transhumanism, unless I count one of the revelations about River Song, and that was an accident. There’s also a lot of respect for human life in DW, like in “The Rebel flesh/The Almost People” two-parter. I suppose that could qualify as transhumanism, but there’s no sign that the show approves the creation of the flesh.

    The storylines are certainly much tighter than the old Who, but the semi-rambling nature of the old episodes can be pleasant.

  15. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen much of the new “Doctor Who” (though what I have seen certainly fits your description – anyone else remember that throwaway line in “The End of the World” about “the use of weapons, teleportation, and religion”?), but I’d just like to say that, if the show really has become trans-humanistic in its old age, it’s an irony beyond the power of words to describe. It’s “Doctor Who”, after all, that provided the world with the ultimate icon of trans-humanism run amok – swollen with pride, convinced that its unnatural growth is a sign of perfection and strength, and dedicated to ensuring that all who oppose it “will be exterminated! Exterminate! Exterminate!”

  16. Thinking about this blog, I would venture to recommend the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz. While it certainly has some of the horror/thriller aspects of much of his fiction, it is really more of a contemporary fantasy with some science-fiction mixed in. Koontz is a Catholic and the Catholic sensibility (and a respect for the Church) can be seen throughout the series.

    They’re also just good, keep you at the edge of your seat entertainment.

  17. I see Dr. Who as more science fairy tale than science fiction, though I disagree with the advanced evolving human bit. That’s not there that I can see. And the show does raise some serious questions at times (especially under former headwriter Russell Davies). My favorite episode was “New Earth” which looked at research on ‘flesh’ (really human beings), justified by it helping so many. And those doing it were certainly portrayed as wrong. The episode “The Satan Pit” made a case that the doctor’s science was used by him as another ‘religion’ and forced him to confront that. Who is not supposed to be ‘deep’, but it did raise questions. I find it far more Sci Fi than Star Trek (which I also love, but that was the one with the utopian Federation). And the peculiar absence of families? When each of the modern Who companions had a family presence, and the current companions are a married couple and their child? Family relationships were at the core of each seasonal arc. I do think some of your observations are correct, as far as the writing reflecting modern culture, but I can’t agree with some of the others.