I have enjoyed science fiction for as long as I can remember. While growing up I would watch scifi cartoons such as Space Ghost. I would read scifi stories (such as The Green Futures of Tycho) and Choose Your Own Adventure books. I watched Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back as a small child in the theater with my father and older sister. I also watched reruns of the original Star Trek series, Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rogers. When I was in middle school I became interested in Doctor Who through a friend. Both of us joined a local fan club where we watched old Doctor Who episodes which we could not see on television. When I was in high school we were still meeting, but we rarely watched Doctor Who. Instead we primarily watched and heckled scifi B movies and old classics like a live version of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
When I was very young I enjoyed scifi for its adventure value and my fascination with space travel. Science fiction easily provides an adventurous story, such as battling a galactic empire in Star Wars, boldly going where no one has gone before in Star Trek, traveling through time, and fighting aggressive aliens or robots. Good science fiction, however, should not be characterized simply as stories about spaceships, aliens, and ray guns. Good science fiction with all of these exists in abundance, but good science fiction with none of these exists in abundance as well, or they merely form the backdrop for the real story. Some of the best science fiction deals with ideas, fundamental questions, and what-if scenarios..
I enjoy almost any story which deals with fascinating ideas, even when I disagree with the author’s conclusions, because I enjoy wrestling with ideas and their significance. For example, Contact, a movie based on Carl Sagan’s book Contact, explores the human condition and the relationship between science and religion – not my views on those questions, but still very interesting. The movie Minority Report wrestles with the relationship between foreknowledge, free will, and human responsibility. Again, not my view but still very interesting. I also enjoy the short stories of Isaac Asimov, even though he was an atheist. “The Immortal Bard” (discussed here) is my favorite.
I have sometimes pondered why science fiction makes such a good vehicle for exploring deep questions. I suspect part of the answer is the fact that science fiction is speculative from the outset and therefore is a perfect fit for exploring “what if” questions. Science fiction can speculate about what the implications may be of particular technologies or political trends. That speculation can be fun, or it can provide warnings of how such developments can be abused. Some people will not want to read an abstract argument, but they may be moved to consider such questions through a more concrete story. The I, Robot movie (not to be confused with Asimov’s book with which the movie has almost no similarity) shows us a computer which follows coldly logical rules that are not guided by a moral foundation. The Terminator movies warn of the danger of nuclear weapons and the potential danger of giving too much control to machines without human oversight.
Science fiction can be a captivating genre, and it can be a very effective tool to convey a worldview. Much of science fiction, however, is either atheistic (or at least secular) or eastern/New Age. I do not see much Christian science fiction, but it could be easily and effectively used by Christians as well. It can be a great vehicle for expressing a Christian view of the important questions that people are asking today, whether they are ethical questions, the purpose of life, or the nature mankind and this world and mankind’s place in this world (I am toying with a few story ideas). It also allows people to have fun while exploring such deep issues without turning away people who have little interest in ordinary philosophical debate.
In Art and the Bible Francis Schaeffer encouraged Christians to be more involved in the arts in service to the glory of God. Because Christ is the lord of a person’s entire life, his life can then produce both truth and beauty. The same can be applied to literature. Schaeffer also argued that legitimate Christian art does not always need to have a specifically religious content. A Christian can paint a picture of a beautiful landscape simply because it is a beautiful landscape which he knows was created by God. In the same way, a Christian can write an entertaining story simply to write an entertaining story, and he can also write a story with a purpose and a message. Both are valid.
This genre is well suited for handling worldview issues, and it has a wide audience. Christians, Let us use it.