SCIENCE FICTION AND THE BIBLE
This reading list has now been hypertextually enhanced. Clicking on the title of a book should bring up a page for buying what I consider to be the current best edition of that book at Amazon.co.uk. In the case of out-of-copyright books I have also tried to provide a link to an online or downloadable edition, usually at Project Gutenberg.
(I will try to update these links periodically, but it’s obviously a substantial job. Some of them may therefore be out of date at any given time.)
SCIENCE FICTION AND THE BIBLE
THE ORIGINS OF S.F.
Precursors to S.F.:
The Bible. I work from the Authorised Version, for several reasons: it’s the most literary translation, it’s the one that most of the writers I talked about would have been primarily familiar with, and I like the language. I can recommend the online Unbound Bible, as well as the Oxford World’s Classics edition and the individual Pocket Canons editions of Genesis, Job and Revelation.
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321): The Divine Comedy (online text). Italian epic poem describing Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, with sundry digressions on cosmological and other scientific topics.
John Milton (1608-74): Paradise Lost (1667) (online text). Possibly the most influential poem ever written in English – certainly the most influential on S.F.
Percy Shelley (1792-1822): Prometheus Unbound (1820) (online text: also available in Percy Shelley’s Complete Works). Mary Shelley’s husband rewrites Paradise Lost, via the Greek creation myth of Prometheus.
Mary Shelley (1797-1851):
Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1817) (online text). An astonishing and seminal novel – Romantic creation myth, Gothic novel and the first work of S.F.
The Last Man (1826) (online text: link is to the Romantic Circles Electronic Edition). Later, less successful attempt to follow in Frankenstein’s footsteps. Interesting enough in its own right, though.
H.G. Wells (1866-1946):
The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) (online text). Wells’s own take on the Genesis / Paradise Lost creation myth.
The Time Machine (1895) (online text). The first time-travel story, and simply the classic science fiction novel of all time. (It’s unfortunate that the cover of this edition relates to the disastrous film of the same name, but you can’t have everything.)
The War of the Worlds (1898) (online text). The first alien-invasion story.
SOME CHRISTIAN S.F. AUTHORS
Anthony Boucher (1911-68):
‘The Quest for Saint Aquin’ (1951). Short story about a robot saint, frequently anthologised. Apparently collected in The Compleat Boucher (1999).
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963):
Out of the Silent Planet (1938). The definitive work of Christian S.F.
Perelandra (1943, aka Voyage to Venus). Lewis’s S.F. retelling of Paradise Lost, complete with happy ending.
That Hideous Strength (1945). Includes Lewis’s Frankenstein / God-Machine creature, ‘the Head’.
Walter M. Miller Jr (1923-96):
A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960). An acknowledged S.F. classic. At all costs avoid the posthumous sequel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (1997), which entirely fails to live up to the excellent original.
Cordwainer Smith (Paul Linebarger, 1913-66):
Quest of the Three Worlds (1966). Linked novellas.
Norstrilia (1975). Novel.
The Rediscovery of Man (1975). Short stories.
The Instrumentality of Mankind (1979). Short Stories.
Much of Smith’s work was published or collected posthumously – his career as an S.F. author took place mostly in the 1950s and 60s. Apart from some of the stories in The Instrumentality of Mankind, all of the above take place in a single coherent future history.
SOME ATHEIST S.F. AUTHORS
Isaac Asimov (1920-92):
I, Robot (1950). Linked short stories, introducing Asimov’s unfallen artificial men. Do not go and see the film instead.
The Caves of Steel (1954). Introduces the Christlike robot, Daneel Olivaw.
‘The Last Question’ (1956). Short story, collected in Robot Dreams (1986).
The Gods Themselves (1972). Nothing to do with my talks (despite the title), but included here because it’s Asimov’s single best work.
The Bicentennial Man (1976). Most of what I say about I, Robot applies. Particularly the bit about not seeing the film.
Foundation and Earth (1986). Contains a Group-Mind which may also be a God-Machine.
Iain M. Banks (1954- ):
Consider Phlebas (1987). Introducing Banks’s secular utopia, the Culture.
The State of the Art (1991). Short stories, including the novella ‘The State of the Art’, where representatives of the Culture visit 1980s Earth.
Look to Windward (2000). This and Excession interestingly call into question the Culture’s moral basis: in Look to Windward the antagonists are a race of religious aliens who are in direct contact with their own transcended dead.
SOME HETERODOX S.F. AUTHORS
Philip K. Dick (1928-82):
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1964). A story of encounter with the alien and of humans becoming gods.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). Dick’s most famous novel thanks to the film Blade Runner, which is a very loose adaptation of it. The novel defines humanity through contrasting it with its creations, the androids.
Ubik (1969). The most sophisticated of Dick’s ‘artificial universe’ stories.
A Maze of Death (1970). An attempt to envisage an ‘abstract, logical system of religious thought’.
Valis (1981). Dick’s most extensive attempt to interpret his religious visions.
The Divine Invasion (1981). Partial sequel to Valis.
I find it difficult to know where to stop when recommending books by Dick. The man’s a genius.
Olaf Stapledon (1886-1950):
Last and First Men (1930). The entire future history of humanity in one hefty volume.
Star Maker (1937). Stapledon’s visionary masterpiece, including a Group-Mind the size of a universe.
Sirius: a Fantasy of Love and Discord (1944). Stapledon’s take on the Frankenstein myth, centring around an intellectually augmented dog.
S.F. THEMES AND MYTHS
Douglas Adams (1952-2001):
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy ‘Trilogy’, consisting of:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979),
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980),
Life, the Universe and Everything (1982),
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984) and
Mostly Harmless (1992).
Satirical S.F. which riffs on many of the perennial themes, including sundry encounters with aliens, a plethora of God-Machines, and a classic Frankenstein character in the person of Marvin.
Brian Aldiss (1925- ):
Frankenstein Unbound (1973). A careful metafictional examination of Mary Shelley’s novel and of S.F. itself, as a time-traveller runs into both Mary and Percy Shelley and Victor Frankenstein.
Moreau’s Other Island (1980). Similar metafictional exploration of Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau.
Margaret Atwood (1939- ):
The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). Famous feminist (or rather anti-feminist) dystopia.
James Blish (1921-1975)
A Case of Conscience (1958). Seminal novel of the surprisingly widespread ‘Jesuit scientist’s faith is shattered by his discoveries on an alien planet’ sub-genre.
Black Easter (1970) and The Day After Judgement (1972). A cautionary tale of theology and demonology, in two volumes. Strictly speaking fantasy rather than S.F., the diptych is a deliberate return to S.F.’s roots in the religious epic.
Arthur C. Clarke (1917- ):
Childhood’s End (1953). A deeply ambivalent story of the evolution of a Group-Mind.
The Odyssey Quartet:
2001: a Space Odyssey (1968),
2010: Odyssey Two (1982),
2061: Odyssey Three (1987) and
3001: the Final Odyssey (1997).
Contains the archetypal God-Machine, the black Monolith, which creates humanity and must eventually be destroyed by its creations.
William Gibson (1948- ):
Count Zero (1986) and
Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988).
The so-called Sprawl Trilogy:
Retelling of the Myth of the God-Machine for the cyberpunk era.
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
Brave New World (1932). Dystopian novel and political satire, invariably referred to alongside Frankenstein in tabloid discussions of biotechnology.
David Lindsay (1878-1945)
A Voyage to Arcturus (1920). A bizarre Gnostic allegory and a deep-immersion experience of encountering the alien. A great inspiration to C.S. Lewis, who disagreed with it utterly.
George Orwell (Eric Blair, 1903-50)
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). The archetypal dystopian novel. (Please note that the title is Nineteen Eighty-Four, not 1984!)
Kim Stanley Robinson (1952- ):
The Wild Shore (1984),
The Gold Coast (1988) and
Pacific Edge (1990).
The Orange County Trilogy:
Thematic trilogy whose individual volumes (unconnected on a narrative level) are respectively a post-apocalyptic novel, a dystopia and a utopia, and form an excellent introduction to all three genres.
Dan Simmons (1948- ):
Hyperion (1989) and
The Fall of Hyperion (1990).
The Hyperion Cantos:
God-Machines, Frankenstein creatures, dystopias, apocalypses, cyberpunk, Catholicism, classical myth and the Romantic poets – this two-volume novel really does have it all. The sequels, Endymion (1996) and The Rise of Endymion (1997) unfortunately suffer from diminishing returns. See also ‘A Momentary Stay against Confusion’, an interview I carried out with Simmons which is archived at this very site.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94):
Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) (online text). Early retelling of the Frankenstein Myth.
Brian Aldiss: Billion Year Spree (1973), later revised as Trillion Year Spree (1986, with David Wingrove). Seminal critical history of S.F., including the definition involving ‘mankind and his place in the universe’. Aldiss is, of course, a prolific and excellent S.F. author in his own right – see above.
Edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (second edition, 1993). It’s getting a little out of date, but this is the definitive critical work on S.F. It weighs in at somewhere in the region of a million words. Look out also for its equally compendious sister volume, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997).
C.S. Lewis: A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942). Criticism of Milton’s epic poem, many of whose ideas helped to shape Perelandra. See also Of This and Other Worlds (1982), a volume of critical essays on S.F. and other literature, including the essay ‘On Stories’.
Stephen May: Stardust and Ashes: Science Fiction in Christian Perspective (1998). Extremely interesting on S.F. and the Gnostic tradition, which is something I would have liked to cover in the talks but just didn’t have the time. May’s book is interesting, erudite and fun to read.
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