Sci-fi: Mars and Moon landings, farewell Neil Armstong and Ray Bradbury
The Mars Curiosity landing, and our farewell tributes to Neil Armstrong, remind me of several sci-fi/fantasy books and short stories based on Moon or Mars landings. These have a spiritual dimension that raises conversation-starting and thought-provoking questions.
Although you may not be a particular sci-fi fan, these stories can be compelling fiction. By placing story at a distance from normal human experience, sci-fi and fantasy have huge potential to explore spiritual concepts.
Therefore sci-fi stories can be wonderful gifts for any thinking teen or adult, and great for discussions in student or youth ministry, any adult book group, or online through social networking – a strategy we can also use with many other types of films and books.
He was looking at three statues of spacemen: statues of
Trevor, Woodward, and Fox.” – C S Lewis, Forms of Things Unknown
There are two thought-provoking short stories featuring on Moon and Mars landings:
- Forms of Things Unknown by C S Lewis describes a moon landing. Three previous attempts had been initially successful, but then all radio contact was lost. Lewis marries Greek mythology with space exploration, leading to a chilling denouement. (Without giving you a spoiler, it’s a biblical metaphor that also appears in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.) Though not in print, you can read most (2 pages missing in the middle) online at Google books, page 119 of Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories and buy it secondhand under that title, or within The Dark Tower and Other Stories.
(Footnotes to the Apollo landing: the first food consumed on the Moon was holy communion, brought by Buzz Aldrin; and the recent family memorial service for Neil Armstrong was not only on the day of a full moon, but also on a ‘calendar’ blue moon – the second full moon within a month.)
- Ray Bradbury’s Mars is Heaven narrates a manned Mars landing, where everything is rather too much like home. Another chilling ending and a thought-provoking piece about deception. It is included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. 1: 1929-1964, an anthology of 26 best sci-fi short stories, which also contains the moving Flowers for Algernon. You can also read part of the story, but not the ending, at Google Books, page 322 onwards, and part of Flowers for Algernon from page 502.
Bradbury died in 2012.
Stephen Lawhead’s Dream Thief is available on Kindle, and secondhand as a paperback. It’s an exciting and well-crafted story including a Mars landing, and shares a clear Christian message. Empyrion 1: The Search for Fierra and Empyrion II: The Siege of Dome are similarly themed (also available on Kindle, or secondhand).
Perhaps overshadowed by his children’s books, the C S Lewis sci-fi trilogy deserves far wider exposure. These are classics from a master communicator who understood how to embed spiritual truths and questions within story. He called this ‘smuggling theology‘:
- Out of the Silent Planet cleverly explores spiritual themes without their christianese names, including God, evil, and the possibility of an unfallen world – Mars.
- Perelandra is set on Venus, and examines in detail the themes of temptation and incoming evil into a perfect world (covered more simply in The Magician’s Nephew).
- The final book in the trilogy, That Hideous Strength, is UK-based, but draws on characters and events from the two previous books.
More sci-fi opportunities
Many other sci-fi books, TV programmes and films contain unintended spiritual parallels. Dr Who, for instance, raises valuable discussion questions and parallels about life, spirituality and more. Culturewatch ministry Damaris has explored these themes in Dr Who. Powerful films such as Avatar and Inception make great discussion topics – see Damaris articles/study guides on Avatar | Inception | The Matrix | The Matrix Revolutions | Matrix Reloaded | Source Code | AI | Contact | District 9 | I, Robot and a range of other sci-fi/fantasy movies. They also offer Viewfinder resources for you to use movie themes within church services for 18-30s, and some of these are sci-fi/fantasy.
Zenna Henderson wrote sci-fi with a spiritual angle. And of course the Lord of the Rings fantasy is full of spiritual parallels, also reflected (perhaps in less depth) in The Hobbit. (The 2012 film will surely enhance Tolkein interest.) Some of the wonderful Studio Ghibli anime films, and a majority of other animations such as The Iron Giant and Coraline are broadly sci-fi or fantasy, often with strongly redemptive imagery. Pan’s Labrynth too. Chronicles of Narnia is perhaps the ultimate children’s fantasy classic with Lewis’s ‘smuggled theology’.
If you’d like to follow sci-fi related news, Christian academic and writer Terri Main runs the daily Paper.li Science Fiction Today. She has authored sci-fi books A Question of Defense | Parmenters Wager | Dark Side of the Moon.
The unique strength of sci-fi
Sci-fi and fantasy stories have a much under-estimated potential to communicate spiritual truths and start conversations across common ground, in youth groups, book discussions or online through Facebook etc. How could you use them? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment form below.
Terri Main explains:
Science fiction is uniquely positioned to address social and spiritual issues in a non-threatening way. Placing something in the future, or on another planet, or in another dimension, gives us enough distance to see the implications of the advance of science and technology or the progress of social trends. In a science fiction story, you can take a single trend and exaggerate that trend into a future dominated by it and see the implications. One of the most powerful episodes of the original Star Trek series, broadcast in the late 1960s, featured a culture where two races fought each other to extinction. The big difference between the races – one had the right side of the face black and the left white. The other was the reverse. That program said more about the silliness of racial discrimination than all the speeches, riots or demonstrations could ever do. Christian ministries could learn much from the parables of the future called science fiction.”
Christianity Today produces a bible study Finding God in Sci-Fi Spirituality.
Graphic credit: Exper Giovanni Rubaltelli | Creative Commons/Flickr
This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on the BigBible blog
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