Theology and Science Fiction, and the Opposition of the World

These are the notes that formed the basis of the talk given Saturday October 4th 2014 at Christendom College, St John the Evangelist Library:

It is always fitting at the beginning of any speculative enterprise to state the position one supports and to define one’s terms.

It is particularly fitting at the beginning of this particular talk, since the spirit of the modern world is very much opposed to defining one’s terms or stating one’s position too clearly, and opposition to that spirit is one of the themes this talk will address.

The subject of this talk is the theology of science fiction and fantasy stories.

An alert student will notice immediately that, technically speaking, there is no subject to this subject matter. There is no such thing as the theology of science fiction. Theology is reasoning about divine things; even the finest science fiction stories hardly fit into that category, much as fans like me idolize them.

So I am arguing that there is no theology in science fiction, but there is something like it.

To this end, I would like to submit to your candid judgment the following propositions:

  • FIRST, that every genre is defined by the protocols expected by the readership. These protocols are something like an unspoken contract, but something more like the animating spirit of a school of thought;
  • SECOND that science fiction is defined by the protocols specific to it; it has an identifiable spirit that animates it;
  • THIRD and finally that the spirit of science fiction, when in an uncorrupted form, is a natural ally of the Church and an enemy of the World and the principalities and powers ruling this world.

This spirit of the world is the enemy of the Church as well.

This immediately introduces the questions of what is theology? and what is science fiction in its natural form? What is it in its corrupted form?


To define theology, we can trust Thomas Aquinas, the foremost theologian of all time. He says that theology teaches of God, is taught by God, and leads to God.

Of God Himself in His infinite glory and holiness, no human tongue can speak, and even archangels fall mute. Theology does not and cannot define the indefinable.

Before the advances in rocketry following World War Two, no human had ever seen the dark side of the moon; this did not mean astronomers could not predict the phases and risings and settings of the moon, its triunes and oppositions and eclipses and so on. It merely meant that they could only map the parts of the moon revealed to them, and see what the sunlight showed.

Likewise, theology is limited to its proper subject matter. It is rational deductions from truths revealed by scripture and tradition. Of mysteries of the faith where human reason falls short, or truths not revealed, we say nothing.

For a definition of Science Fiction, as a science fiction writer, I will propose my definition, and should I ever become the foremost science fiction writer of all time, then my definition will have property authority. Until then, you may accept it as provisional.


Before I define science fiction, I must define genre.

A genre is a group of stories animated by the same spirit. Stories have a family resemblance between them, a set of elements, that gives them life. These elements are defined by the unspoken contract with the readers formed by their expectations.

If I write a murder mystery where there is no murder, or where the murderer is unmasked not by the deduction and persistence of the detective but by the magic spell of a very influential fairy, then the expectations are thwarted.

The reason why we can conclude there is an unspoken contract at work is because the sensation of coming to the end of the book and discovering the author failed to fulfill the conventions of the genre is not a sensation of disappointment but of injustice. The reader feels cheated. His reaction is that of a man who was promised something and the promise broken. The author did not hold up his side of the deal.

I am not speaking of surprise twists or ironic endings. I am not speaking of what the reader expects of the events inside the plot. Those are part and parcel of what the reader buys when he buys your book.

I am speaking of his expectation of what he is buying when he buys your wares. The reader of a mystery expects the plot to surprise him, and if the plot is entirely predictable, and has no surprises, it is not a surprise that the plot is unsurprising, it is a cheat.

I am talking about the basics of craftsmanship where the craftsman lives up to the obligations he shoulders merely by virtue of being a member of that craft. A carpenter who crafts a chair on runners that rocks might surprise his customers but he does not cheat them; a carpenter who crafts a two legged stool that cannot stand does.

Again, we can dismiss those who say that genres are determined arbitrarily. If I go into a bookstore and approach the pretty young clerk, and say, “I read TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis THE VIRGINIAN by Owen Wister — what do you have that is like this?”

The beauty of the capitalist system is that she will answer: “For your convenience, we have shelves the books not in alphabetical or chronological order, but in groups of stories that are like unto each other, so all the books like TRUE GRIT are together.”

But what does ‘like unto’ mean? It means the reader wants the props and settings and mood of a tale of the Old West. He wants Apaches and sixguns and prospectors and the Arizona desert silvery and eerie beneath the moon with a coyote’s howl echoing in the distance.

Now, keep in mind that A PRINCESS OF MARS by Edgar Rice Burroughs, in the first chapter, has all these elements, but since the hero dies in Chapter One and is snatched away in an interplanetary out-of-body experience to reappear incarnate on Mars, it is pretty clear that this is not a Western but another genre, even though the Green Martians are as savage as Apaches and fill the same role in the story.

If I find A PRINCESS OF MARS shelved with the Westerns, as a book buying customer, I have a right to complain to the store owner that the pretty young clerk has misled me.

Likewise, if I ask the pretty young clerk to sell me a movie from her video section that is in the mood and spirit we call a Western, and she offers WILD WILD WEST starring Will Smith and a giant steampunk robotic spider crewed by saloon girls, I am within my rights to have my mute but hulking manservant throw the shrieking clerk to the snakes as a warning to others, for she has failed me.

Moving up the chain of command, the publisher of the paperback decides whether to stamp a horse’s profile on the spine of the book rather than the profile of a unicorn or a rocketship in flight —that decision is based on what he expects the reader to seek when seeking books by the spirit they share. It is not his decision, but him trying to guess the what he consensus of the reader’s decisions will be.

A genre is created the same way a genealogy is. One seminal story establishes a certain mood or employs certain props or characters or settings, or solving certain writer’s difficulties in a certain way, it establishes a certain spirit, and other writers, inspired by the same spirit and fishing in the same bend of the river produce other works capturing that spirit. And readers who like the one tend to like its imitators. It is they, not art critiques and not editors and not writers, who insist the be grouped together by genre in bookstores and book review columns.

The common expectations which define a genre encompass different elements. For example, Tim Powers wrote a pirate story where the main point was the eerie fantasy of the setting, called ON STRANGER TIDES. In that book one of the conceits was that iron, cold iron, was apotropaic to magic, so that, in the Old World, magic had been waning since the iron age, except in remote wilderness areas, steppes or bogs or forests where perhaps witches still linger; but that in the New World, which lingered in the Bronze Age or earlier, magic still existed and operated, so that Blackbeard, for example, could invoke voodoo spirits by tying fuses in his beard. When the tale was made into a movie, the fantastic speculation was stripped out, and what was left was an action-adventure movie with some fantastic elements present, mermaids and so on, but only those elements normal and accepted to Pirate Stories or the tall tales and legends sailors tell about the sea. The movie has no right to be put on the shelf next to THE LAST UNICORN or LORD OF THE RINGS, because a reader who just finished a Peter S Beagle book, if he is in the mood form more in the same spirit, might open the Tim Powers book, but not the Johnny Depp movie.

Likewise, genres can overlap. The television version of WILD WILD WEST was the attempt to graft into the setting of the Old West the tropes of a James Bond spy thriller, secret missions, clever gadgets, masters of disguise, beautiful femmes fatale, and so on. What the movie was meant to be, I don’t know, because neither the expectations of a spy thriller nor of a Western were met. Did I mention a giant steam-powered robot spider?

The boundaries shade into gray at certain places, and a particular book might baffle the pretty young clerk as to where to shelf it, just in the same way members of the Linnaean society might be baffled over the question of whether an Archeopterix is a dinosaur rather than a bird.

Armed with this definition of genre, let us attempt to define science fiction.


Unlike other genres, science fiction and fantasy can be of any setting, any characters, and any mood.

The special element of science fiction, the one expectation that cannot be ignored lest the reader feel cheated, is that the tale contain something from another world or a future time. On stage must be something to provoke that marvel, awe, wonder, fear, or disorientation that springs from scientific speculation (in the case of science fiction) or from the magical thinking science to which science put an end (in the case of fantasy).

Science fiction is the mythology in keeping with the spirit of the scientific age.

To understand this definition, we must understand what is a myth and what is the spirit of the scientific age.


A myth does not mean a falsehood, it means a truth captured in a figurative way rather than a literal way. A well constructed myth is one that captures the truth with such shocking profundity that our passions and emotions are involved as much as our reason.

For example: The myth of the abduction of Persephone by Hades, and her periodic return to his realm because she ate the fruit of death, is not merely an analogy where Hades represents winter and Persephone represents grain, to tell kids by simile that season follows season.

The kidnapping of the maiden of spring into the darkness of the underworld is a poetic image conveying one of the core tragedies of human existence. That she was returned to her grieving mother but only conditionally, for having eaten the seeds of the pomegranate, she could not fully escape the land of the dead, and must dwell there for a third of the year, during which time the trees are bare and the wind is cold—this is not a meteorological report.

Even during the springtide of life, the pomegranate seed is in the mouth of every beloved child, who must die some day; but the compassion of heaven promises hope, for the goddess does not forget her child. The myth is an image of death after life and life after death.

This myth still has the power to move hearts, even in a summary, because it touches on our sense of virtue and vice, right and wrong, life and death, love and sorrow, and, in short, our sense of what life is, and what life is for.

Science fiction attempts the capture in words and images the sense of life which the scientific revolution ushered in.

Like theology, science fiction also has a dark side to its moon, a realm which is defined by contrast to it. That realm is fantasy, and it is a wide and perilous empire. Where and how it overlaps into science fiction is an argument that will agitate fanboys until the genre goes the way of the silent movie or the radio play.

The tales of men have always held fantastic elements, gods and monsters and miracles and magic spells. Indeed, until quite recently, so did our history books, which reported the prophetic dreams of Caesar’s wife with the same sobriety as they report the wounds in Caesar’s back.

But fantasy as a genre is no older than William Morris. Fantasy means something more than a story with fantastic element in it.

Fantasy is the nostalgic look back from an author trapped in the scientific worldview to the more miraculous and more magical worldview of the previous era. It is stories set in a time when people still believed in witches and wizards and dragons, or at least believed them possible, or believed in pagan gods, and demigods and monsters.

Some science fiction writers, eager to expand the prestige of our dubious corner of literature, from time to time makes claims that certain older works, such as Dante or Ariosto when a man visited the moon, counted as science fiction. These claims stretch the definition of science fiction alarmingly.

In The Paradisio, the narrator is whisked to the heaven of the moon by the divine love seen shining in the eyes of Beatrice, and he meets the souls of Piccarda Donati, the Empress Constance, or other blessed spirits who broke their vows in life.

In Orlando Furioso, Astalfo flies to the moon to recover the wits of Orlando, and he finds them among a landscape covered with empty fame, lover’s tears, gifts to courtiers, the crowns of lost kingdoms, and other vainglories of a spiritual or allegorical nature. He did not find the maneating centaurs of Edgar Rice Burroughs nor the insectoid socialists of H.G. Wells.


Now, merely by differentiating between the Moonscape of Ariosto and that of H.G. Wells, we not only see the difference between fantasy and science fiction, we see what they have in common.

We see why, until recently, all bookstores commanded their pretty young clerks to shelve the fantasy books in the science fiction section:

Every story must have the elements of plot, character development, theme, setting, and so on. But fantasy stories and science fiction stories have one additional element no other genre has. Science Fiction is about new worlds. Every science fiction reader is Columbus or Neal Armstrong. Every fantasy reader is Odysseus or Aeneas.

Any extraordinary voyage to an extraordinary world, either in outer space or remote in eons of time, or any story about a visitor or visitation from an extraordinary world into our quotidian worlds of the here and now is going to be science fiction or fantasy.

If the world is unearthly, like elfland or Narnia or Middle Earth, it is fantasy; if the world is extraterrestrial or futuristic, as the planet Barsoom or the far future year 1984, it is science fiction.

It does not matter if the other world is where the action takes place, as in THE TIME MACHINE or Middle Earth, or if the other world is offstage and merely sends visitors or invaders to ours, as WAR OF THE WORLDS or THE KING OF ELFLAND’S DAUGHTER or LUD-IN-THE-MIST. If this other world is merely an unexplored corner of our own, as in PELLUCIDAR, the LOST WORLD or SHE, as long as it is a strange corner, where the normal rules of time and space do not apply.

Both genres have an overlapping readership because both appeal to the wanderlust of the imagination, both appeal to the homesickness we poor children of Eve who are exiled here on earth feel toward the stars.

The opening words of the word crawl of that most fantastic of science fiction movies STAR WARS, tells us of the stars long, long ago and far, far away. Likewise the opening voiceover of STAR TREK promises to go where no man has gone before.

Both the wars of the stars and the trek to the stars speak to that homesickness for the stars.

The most obvious new world is the one opened by technological development. The first inventor of wonder is like a visitor from the future, Captain Nemo or Robur the Conqueror or Barbicane allowed the Victorian readers to visit their future world of submarine and heavier than air craft and moonshots.

Science fiction on an emotional level is about the thrill, or the dread, as those new technologies grant us powers either demigodlike or diabolical.

To quell any doubt on this point, consider the seminal story of science fiction, the one seed from which the whole tangled forest of many branches springs: in FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelly the doctor for whom the novel is named creates life, and the creature that he stirs to life is named Adam.

The thrilling blasphemy of the attempt, and it’s tragic results, is the main point of the story.

The very name of the doctor betrays the lust for godlike power: Frankenstein means the stone of the Franks, and is a reference to the philosopher’s stone, that lapis philosophicorum sought by the Renaissance alchemists which would turn lead to gold, but would also create the elixir of life. It is a godlike power that turns diabolical due to misuse.

Or, if you do not consider FRANKENSTEIN to be legitimately the first science fiction story, please consider THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU, or, more to the point, THE TIME MACHINE by H.G. Wells. In it, the unnamed narrator has travels in a fantastic vehicle to the far future of AD 802 thousand 701 — and falls at the foot of the sphinx — to have revealed to him the ultimate fate of man and the ultimate fate of the Earth.

And the sphinx answers the question ‘What is Man?’ with a grim irony as terrible as what faced Oedipus. The TIME MACHINE has no plot and no characters worth mentioning; it is as simple and terrible in its outline as the myth of Proserpine. Man is a creature either enervated into the helplessness of the Eloi by the Darwinian natural selection issuing from the ease and comfort of the upper classes, or from the harsh and inhuman working conditions of the lower, who mutate over strange eons into the cannibal Morlocks. It is as dismal an answer to the riddle of the Sphinx as the sudden loss of Earth as the stable centerpoint of the cosmos of Ptolemy: it is an answer that almost seems logical, given the Darwinian premise, just logical enough to give the boogieman a shadow, and with just enough of a jolt of guilt over the innate injustice of a class system to give the tale a taste like bitter iron.

Prophecy from time immemorial has been the province of the sibyls and soothsayers, but few aside from Saint John the Apostle or the bards of the frozen north discovered the secrets of Armageddon or Gotterdammerung which brings a period to the career of the earthly world.

Now allow me to emphasize the point that it is the sense of scientific wonder, the deep spaces pondered by the astronomer, the deep time pondered by geologists and paleontologists, which differentiates science fiction from fantasy, horror, and other related genres who rest on the weird and wonderful for their main appeal.

Science fiction is divided into harder and softer branches of the family. In hard science fiction the main appeal is that the verisimilitude of the story, the illusion of reality, comes from the cleverness with which modern scientific principles are made to seem to operate in the make believe land. The work of Jules Verne is the best example of hard science fiction: he extrapolated from known principles of science so well that most of his daydreams have since come to pass.

But even in the work of H.G. Wells, who penned the best example of soft SF, rests on a science fictional humbug rather than fantastic humbug for its illusion of realism. The Invisible Man must go naked to be unseen, unlike Frodo Baggins, who merely goes barefoot, because a chemical that gives flesh and bone the same index of refraction as the air would not affect your hat and coat but the One Ring, which operates by dream logic, the logic of mythology, must affect your tunic and cloak.

The antigravity metal of Cavor is as pure a humbug as the time machine, but the idea that a column of air becoming weightless above the shed where Cavor performs his experiments would create a partial vacuum and a small hurricane to smash that shed is something no hero of the Arabian Night’s Tales on a flying carpet need ever fret about.

Likewise, note that when Ebenezer Scrooge visits the future, it is in a vision like that of a Sybil of Rome. It is pure magic. But when the Time Traveler travels to the future, he sees the sun and moon swinging across the sky in arches of bright and cold fire, the winter seasons passing as rapidly as a bird’s wing beating, in a splendid vista which has a magic of its own, but it is the magic of he realistic side effects of an unreal technology.


Ever since Copernicus yanked the Earth out of the solid center of the cosmos where Ptolemy so carefully had placed us, to send the human globe whirling dizzily about the sun, ever since Nicholas Steno laid of the foundations of geology which has expanded the age of the Earth backward a dizzying number of years, and ever since George Lemaitre announced his hypothesis that the universe was exploded into existence from a primeval atom, modern man has been staggering in vertigo.

Add also into the mix the Darwinian view of man as merely one animal among many, produced by blind, unintentional, and deadly natural selection; Marxist view of man as the helpless speck carried along in the currents of history by the impersonal forces of dialectic materialism; the Freudian view of man as a by-product of irrational subconscious forces; and the views of writers like Nietzsche and Sartre and the Logical Positivists that life is meaningless except for what the raw willpower of man living in a meaningless void imposes on his environment. The result is nausea.

Now, science fiction fans are those who delight in these changes of the paradigm of the world like fans of a roller coaster, hands in the air, screaming, as the cart jerks one way or the other. The central and core expectation of science fiction is that the world is not as our ancestors assumed it to be, and that it will not stay in the future as it is now.

That sense of disorientation, that sense of wonder, that joy (or terror) which comes from having the crystal spheres of the seven heavens of Dante shattered like glass, and the wide darkness of infinity come swooping down, that is the spirit of science fiction.

Any story which violates this prime protocol of science fiction is not science fiction.

Let me use an example which I hope is not too obscure: in NAPOLEON OF NOTTING HILL by G.K. Chesterton takes place in the far future year of 1984, eighty years after the time of the writing.

Now, Chesterton, in open mockery of the Darwinian view of the world, established that the peoples of that era would be so convinced that all changes were slow and gradual that they halted all deliberated progress in their society, so that all men still wore tailed coats and silk top hats and rode in handsome cabs. This story was well-written, profound, entertaining, delightful, and it is simply not science fiction even though it takes place eighty years in the future. It takes place in the same world as the author and the intended readers. There is no sense of wonder, no strangeness. Indeed that particular story might be considered the antithesis of science fiction, since GK Chesterton’s particular genius was his ability to bring a sense of wonder out of the most ordinary and quotidian of things. (The scene where Adam Wayne tells the shopkeepers of the romance and poetry of their simple ware they sell, and why such daily things are worthy of love and drawing the sword to defend is worth the price of the novel alone.)

There are any number of other protocols associated with science fiction which I have not space to discuss here. For example, it is commonplace in science fiction to use strange words or to use ordinary words in strange ways, to imply rather than state explicitly a how the new world differs from ours.

Let me use an oft repeated example,. In the story BEYOND THIS HORIZON, Heinlein writes the simple sentence, “The door dilated.”

These words would be gobbledygook in a mainstream novel, but a science fiction reader is expected by the terms of the unspoken contract to use his imagination to fill in the details.

He is expected to understand that this is a world were technology produces ordinary objects, like doors that iris open rather than swung or slide, strange to us but so familiar to them as to be not worthy of comment or notice by the future people.

The other half of the contract is that the writer tacitly promises to have thought through the obvious and also the surprising side effects world, and fill in such blanks later as strange words and strange scenes place before the reader’s wondering gaze.

The reader is asked to make a leap of the imagination and the writer promises to catch him.

This is the same deal that mystery writers make with their readers, but with we science fiction writers the mystery is how the strange world (or an invader from it) actually operates.

In other words, when a science fiction reader comes across an unexpected word like dilated where ordinarily would be a word like opened, he makes a little ellipsis or blank spot in his mind, having faith that the writer will explain it later, and curious to see how it is done. That curiosity is one of the main drivers of a science fiction story.

SCANNERS LIVE IN VAIN by Cordwainer Smith is a symphony of such half-hints and references of strangeness.

Martel was angry. He did not even adjust his blood away from anger. He stamped across the room by judgment, not by sight. When he saw the table hit the floor, and could tell by the expression on Luci’s face that the table must have made a loud crash, he looked down to see if his leg were broken. It was not. Scanner to the core, he had to scan himself. The action was reflex and automatic. The inventory included his legs, abdomen, Chestbox of instruments, hands, arms, face, and back with the mirror. Only then did Martel go back to being angry. He talked with his voice, even though he knew that his wife hated its blare and preferred to have him write.

“I tell you, I must cranch. I have to cranch. It’s my worry, isn’t it?”

This presents several ellipses of strangeness to the reader. Martel is a kind of creature who can adjust his blood. He walks by judgment. He sees but does not hear a table knocked aside, and must check his leg to confirm it is not broken. And he must cranch.

Now then, a reader unable or unwilling to perform his half of the unspoken contract will not put up with these flagrant displays of bizarreness: the meaningless words will form no picture in his mind. He will not wait in curiosity for the strangeness to be explained.

Having identified the spirit of at least the major streams of thought in Science Fiction, we can make a few tentative deductions about its theology. The science fiction story must take place in a universe sharing the same metaphysical assumption of the scientific revolution. On a thematic level, there must be a world different from our own into which our protagonist falls, or out from which our antagonist comes. One of the themes in any science fiction tale is always solving the mystery of the new world, either as the hero, or the reader, or both, discover its wonders.

First, the science fiction universe must be rational. If it is a universe science cannot figure out, or a mystery before which the mind of man is helpless, then it is a horror story, not properly science fiction at all.

Related to the first point, the world must have progress or regress: either the future must hold new wonders or a new collapse into the Dark Ages. Indeed, even a brief survey of science fiction, at least of the years after the Second World War, shows that roughly half of the most famous stories in the genre have elements of civilization collapse, in morals and manners, if not in technology. Both A PRINCESS OF MARS and Frank Herbert’s DUNE contain clearly medieval or classical elements cheek by jowl with scientific wonders: swords side by side with radium rifles and spaceships.

Science fiction cannot take place in a Buddhist world of an eternal return, where history is an endless cycle that never gets anywhere, because then there is no progress nor regress, only a meaningless alternation. The one exception is either a time travel story or a tale where the hero survives the collapse of spacetime at the end the universe and discovers it to be one and the same as the Big Bang which starts the cosmic cycle over again: because then the Buddhist Wheel of Eternity has a disorienting and ironic scientific explanation.

Hence my first point is that science fiction is the fiction that is instructed by the scientific worldview to believe in a rational creation.

Second, science fiction stories cheat at least the purists among their readers if the deviation from real science are too blatant. Hard science fiction stories, at least, cannot contain the absurdities and scientific inaccuracies of Space Operas. In my youth, I picked up much more science, real science and not technobabble, from the Hard SF stories of that era, which make a real effort to teach real science.

You can find a description of how a spacesuit works, or orbital mechanics, in a Heinlein juvenile as clear as anything in a textbook, and much more accurate than in the science column of your newspaper. The main reason why most voters these days are so easily fooled by junk science is that they read too little science fiction from the 1950s.

Third point: to be honest science fiction, the character must at least stand a fair chance of making sense of the puzzle of the new world he encounters. If the story ends tragically, and the protagonist cannot make sense of the strangeness encountered in chapter one (or, worse, the reader cannot) the writer must convince the reader that the hero had a fair chance and blew it, not that the deck was stacked against him.

This was the one reason why the third MATRIX movie bombed: the writers did not draw out an ending that made sense with the mystery world to which the viewers had been introduced in the first movie. The hero was crucified but the tyranny of illusion was not overthrown. It was like a Buddhist myth where Maya, the deception of the world, triumphs.

The reverse is true: if the hero too quickly or too easily uncovers the mystery of the new world, or the world is merely our world with a thin coat of paint, then the story is satire, science fiction in name only. If the new world is too familiar, it is Space Opera or Fantasy-flavored SF, but not true to the promises of science fiction.

However, where science fiction bleeds over into fantasy or space opera, familiar elements are not only expected but welcomed: that is why Ming the Merciless of Planet Mongo is Fu Manchu, why his daughter Aura is as beautiful and deadly as Fah Lo Suee, why Prince Baron is Robin Hood, why the most numerous fauna is the dinosaur, why the largest flora is the man-eating plant, and why the favorite weapon of seven out of nine Galactic Empires, is the sword. That is why the alien planet Pern is inhabited by winged dragons that breathe flame. These unscientific and unsciencefictional elements are not bugs, but features, because this is where science fiction abuts Space Opera and fantasy.

A truly honest science fiction story satisfies the reader by presenting a world that is rational, that operates by unexpected but discoverable rules, that rewards the diligent application of the intellect. I am separating Space Opera from Science Fiction precisely for the reason that Space Opera heroes, characters like John Carter of Mars or Luke Skywalker of Tantooine, overcome their obstacles by prowess with the sword or psychic or spiritual elevation. The Time Traveler figures out the secret of the world in which he is trapped by deduction, after two or three false starts.

A taste for Space Opera might lead a young man’s fancy to take up swordfighting or adopt a code of chivalry, but a taste for Science Fiction will lead a young man toward aerospatial engineering. It is in the same mood and atmosphere.

If I may sum up these three points by borrowing the words of Aquinas: Science fiction is fiction that teaches science, is taught by science, and leads to science.

Science Fiction, when it is true to its promise, teaches reason, which means, independence of thought, wonder about the world, curiosity about the laws of nature; it teaches a true hero to be a man unafraid of questions, fearless in the face of these disorienting changes of scientific revolution, optimistic of man’s ability to create a better worlds, but also with a healthy respect or fear of the misuses of that newfound godlike power. Pessimistic where pessimism is called for.

Half of science fiction war warning tales about the genii technology might unleash, or the doors to hell it may open; a genii no human power can stuff back into the bottle, a door not even hosts of angels can close, but only God Himself.


Now I spoke earlier of the power of myths, but I did not speak of the diabolical power of myths, that is, the ability of a myth, if taken seriously and literally, to cast a glamour of mesmerism over a whole race or nation, and fill their minds with passions unrelated to reality and feverish unreal visions that blot out their eyesight.

Such a myth has arisen from the same roots as science fiction, and, when it is corrupt, science fiction serves and feeds into this myth rather than, as it should, serve the truth.

The myth of the modern age goes back to the Victorian times, and earlier to the Enlightenment, and to the pagan days, and to the serpent in the garden of Eden, but this poisonous myth really blossomed into its full strength in the 1960s, exactly a hundred years after Jules Verne wrote PARIS IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY.

The myth has four basic legs on which it stands:

This myth takes the biological speculations of Darwin, and applies them to areas where they have no meaning, such as the changes in human history. This leads to the first element of the poisonous myth, that the future is always better than the past on the grounds that evolution is always from the lesser to the better.

The very name of Progressivism is a one-word encapsulation of this myth. The one word Morlock is a reminder that Darwin’s real theory. The Morlocks are certainly better adapted to their lives as subhuman subterranean cannibals than Einstein, Beethoven, George Washington or Saint Francis of Assisi, but it does not mean their existence is better or more desirable.

The concept of social Darwinism, the concept of eugenics, or the idea that ruthless competition in the business world are pragmatic ways of dealing with social ills, are all perversions of what is basically a biological explanation about the origin of species into a moral code of barbarism.

Any science fiction story which praises the pragmatic man, the problem solver, the man of progress and places him above the duties of ordinary common sense ethics, ethics either pagan or Christian or both, turns science fiction toward an irrational hence unscientific direction.

Such science fiction stories have not fallen the full way into corruption, but they no longer promote a rational and theologically sound view of man. They take only man’s natural side, his animal side, into account, and so they tend to glorify war, as, let us say STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein, or they tend to glorify sexual misconduct and perversion, as, let us say STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND.

Real science is man studying nature so as to exercise our God given authority to subdue and rule it propertly. Perverse science is man studying man as if human life were merely a phenomenon, not sacred.

The myth takes a second leg when it assumes mankind can be studied scientifically, and history is subject to scientific rules, and subject to evolution by inhuman pressures. The second leg is Marxism, which is series of millennialist prophecies masquerading as economics.

If you study Marx closely, and I suggest wearing a clothespin on your noise when so doing, you see his theory is nor about economics, but is instead a daydream presented with not the slightest scintilla of evidence or logical reasoning that the economic facts of the human condition, the law of supply and demand, the scarcity of resources, the disutility of labor, can be done away with once the New Jerusalem descends from heaven.

The second leg of the modern myth is not limited to Marx, albeit he is the stepfather of all his epigones.

The second leg is the heresy promising that this utopia can be build by human hands, but that every golden brick and stone of that shining city will be mortared in human blood, as countless millions of innocent men, namely, the most productive, the entrepreneurs and investors, are sacrificed as scapegoats for the sins of the people.

This utopian millennialist madness has, by and large, been beaten back with the end of the Cold War, where the West defeated that dark dream without firing a shot. But at the same time, the communist intellectuals conquered our institutions of higher learning, of law, of the press, and of the entertainment industry likewise without firing a shot. The categories and methods of analysis, the authomatic assumptions that some groups are innocent victims of exploitation and hatred and other groups are demonic oppressors has been unmoored from Marx’s literal bourgeoisie-proletarian dichotomy, and applied, changing only the names and labels, to male-female relationships by feminists, to white-black relationships by race-baiters, to Christian-Muslim relationships by suicidal Islamophiliacs, to the relation of man to nature by environmentalist scaremongers and purveyors of those organized mass festivals of lying known as junk science.

Science fiction stories which portray the utopian visions of these sociopaths as realistic or desirable likewise are perversions of the reason, and alien to the true core of the genre. BRAVE NEW WORLD and NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR are core science fiction stories as well as cautionary tales. Frank Bellamy’s LOOKING BACKWARD is an historical oddity. Once feminism goes the way of the Marxism which fathered it, THE FEMALE MAN by Joanna Russ will join it.

Libertarian utopias, much as they personally appeal to me, fall into the same category of unscientific and irrational science fiction, and, here again, some of the writings of Robert Heinlein fall, such as TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE or his short story ‘Coventry.’

The third leg issues from the exploded theories of Freud. The unspoken and default assumption about human nature comes from Freud, even though, among scientific men, his theories have been as discredited as any theory in his field possibly can be. The basic theory is that having a conscience causes you repression, which leads to madness, whereas acting on your most immediate animal impulse is healthy and normal and will lead to sanity. A bigger load of horsehocky cannot be imagined, even by a science fiction writer of considerable powers of imagination.

However, once the human mind is regarded as fundamentally irrational, then the only rational thing for a mind to do is to abjure reason, and retreat either into the impulse behavior of a juvenile, or the detachment of a Buddhist monk. The third leg of the modern myth is mysticism, a retreat into the wordless world of the Zen Kaon. The idea that all our ideas are tainted by subconscious selfish impulses, by racism or class consciousness, so that objectivity is either impossible or undesirable, is an idea that abolishes reason and fairplay, and introduces a world run by quotas and setasides and grievance mongering. The world of mystic is not a Buddhist monastery of peace and meditation: it is a world of screaming anarchists, of an endless riot of Occupy Wallstreet protestors unable to articulate any demands.

Nearly everything written by Ursula K LeGuin is based on this fundamentally mystical view of life. Her anarchies and her sexually unique foreign planets have nothing to do with science and reason, and much to do with a rejection of science and reason in preference for Taoism, or some other nonverbal worldview.

The final leg is nihilism, pure and simple. It is fashionable these days to hold that since science can tell us nothing of philosophical truths, nothing of metaphysics, nothing of ontology or epistemology, or ethics, that none of these disciplines exist. The dolts making this pronouncement seem never to realize that it is a metaphysical theory to say reality is such that metaphysical theories are meaningless; that is it a statement of ontology to say that ontology does not exist; a statement of epistemology to say that we can never know if a theory of epistemology is true or not; and a statement of ethics that says it is bad to have firm and objective ethical beliefs. All these modern paradoxes and self-lobotomizing theories refute themselves. They have the some humor value as seeing an idiot gardener up a tree, busily sawing off the one remaining tree branch on which he sits.

Now, nihilism is not the theory that life is not worth living. I am not talking about Goths in black fingernail paint. I mean the philosophical theory that says that all truth is relative, all theories are merely narratives disguising some darker motive of oppression or control, all words are lies. Even the most cheerful and chipper people believe this, if they believe the myth of the modern day.

Science fiction stories which introduce the theory that human nature is plastic, molded by circumstance, shaped by environment, are commonplace. NIGHTFALL by Isaac Asmiov is a clear example, but the theme runs through all his work. Such stories, at their root, are nihilistic.

Stories which are paeans to despair, where life is also presented as being not worth living, such as the skillfully written BLINDSIGHT by Peter Watts likewise play into this modern myth.

Sadly, we find the dean of science fiction, Robert Heinlein in this category as well, in his egregious and droll work of utmost self-indulgence and self-congratulation, NUMBER OF THE BEAST. Likewise his short stories ‘All You Zombies’ and ‘By His Bootstraps’. All three of these tales portray a world which is created only by the human mind, for the human mind, but not of humans thinking purposefully. A similar philosophical scheme of solipsism (or consensus solipsism) may be in the background of STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND.

This modern myth is four credos that contradict each other: the pragmatism counts for more than ethics; that ethics consists of aiding the oppressed and noble barbarian against the evil white Christian male oppressor by overthrowing civilization and all its works; that retreat into inarticulate emotion or wordless mysticism supersedes both ethics and practicality; and, finally, that both pragmatics, ethics, logic and mysticism are alike suspect, self serving and invalid, the only reality is what you create yourself.

This myth is called Political Correctness. It is opposed to the Church at every point and in every particular. It is also the only substantial rival for the worldview promoted by the Church, the only real alternative likely to govern the majority of men.

Because these four heresies — let us call them what they are — spring from the same roots as science fiction, this genre is particularly prone to aiding the heresiarchs.

You noticed, I hope, that one of the most prolific and insightful grandmasters of the craft had books in almost every part of the modern myth.

But for the same reason, and this is my point at which I have been driving this whole time: science fiction is also uniquely qualified, perhaps even solely qualified, to address the villains on their own field.

For each of these examples, I could list counter examples. For every story where a man scoffs at ethics in the name of pragmatism, there is one where a Vulcan surrenders his life in self sacrifice to save the Enterprise from Khan Noonian Singh, or where a Jedi Knight throws his lightsaber aside rather than slay his father.

And so on for the other legs of the modern heresy.

Indeed, if pressed, perhaps I could name a Robert Heinlein book or story that argues the other side of any given leg as easily as I could name one in favor of it: such as the stoical self sacrifice in STARSHIP TROOPERS contradicting the obnoxious hedonism of STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND.

Other genres, such as detective stories or pirate stories, may from time to time deal with issues that touch on the deep matter of theology and philosophy, but since no other genre, aside from science fiction and fantasy, invent new worlds and therefore discuss man’s basic relation to the world, no other genre so easily addresses theological matters, which are the matter of the most basic truths of the world. Every other genre takes place within the cosmos as we know it, in the places we know and the years we know. Science fiction, even when it is poorly done, acts like the Creator did when He created light by his Word, because it steps outside of all worlds to show us what else there may be.