Then and now, in the context of tumult and disorder, sci-fi authors have used various approaches to imagine what’s next for mankind or to try to make sense of the world. Given the technological and scientific advances of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, some authors have imagined what things would be like if man continues to advance. For instance, Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 (and Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film) portrays an interaction with a benevolent alien race that has pushed mankind’s evolution and speculates about mankind’s next stage. Other authors explore where we might end up if we don’t get our act together. Examples include H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, which all posit futures where something has gone horribly awry.
Some authors grapple with the transformation of society by pushing their audiences to reflect on and respond to situations in their own day. Star Trek, for example, portrays a future where earthbound racial differences have been rendered meaningless by interaction with alien races, with the implication that we should set aside those differences now.
Even bad sci-fi gets at these themes. Creating situations where disasters and monsters harry our heroes confronts us with a world that is fundamentally antagonistic. Such stories allow the reader or viewer to vicariously live out a scenario where extreme circumstances are faced and conquered, and they thus provide a catharsis in the midst of a real world that often doesn’t make sense to us.
Science fiction asks good questions. But what of the solutions that such works recommend? Interacting with these solutions can provide fertile ground for discussions with non-Christians.
For instance, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five wrestles with the horrors of World War II as seen through the eyes of Billy Pilgrim, a survivor of the Dresden fire-bombing who becomes “unstuck in time.” He comes to accept a fatalistic philosophy learned from a race of aliens called Tralfamadorians. Such fatalism can be attractive because it frees one from truly having to grapple with the ills of the world. Such ills cannot be explained because the world is fundamentally inexplicable. But, as you might point out to friend with whom Billy’s credo resonates, this philosophy also denies the existence and meaning of human choices, making it impossible to live out such thinking consistently, as Billy himself demonstrates in the book.
Or consider the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This tale of a small town’s takeover by a race of parasitic alien spores is often interpreted as an anti-Communist allegory. The danger is the perceived flattening of humanity, the elimination of individuality. Communism, the film seems to say, threatens our destruction because it destroys what makes us human. The solution is to fight and assert our individuality. However, stories like this tend to externalize the danger to human beings, which runs the risk of ignoring the reality of sin in our own hearts.
In both of these cases, the Christian can present his friend with a better analysis of the situation and a better solution. The ills of the world are not simply part of the fabric of creation, nor are they due to an externally imposed philosophy. The ills of the world are the result of sin, and that sin affects everything, even how we think and act (Rom. 3:23). And the solution is not to give in or to fight an external enemy, but to place one’s faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the One who has dealt with the core issue by conquering sin and death on behalf of His people (5:8; 10:9). This is a true and lasting solution. And by understanding and interacting with works such as those in the science-fiction genre, we can make sure we are always ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us (2 Peter 3:15).
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on December 27, 2017.