I’ve enjoyed taking the past few weeks off from blogging, but I am hoping to be back to writing on my weekly schedule for most of the summer, since I don’t have any large commitments that would preclude my doing so. One way that I’ve spent the added free time that accompanies the end of school is taking in some television shows and movies. My wife and I are big Doctor Who fans, and I have loved Star Trek since middle school. A favorite pastime recently has been catching up on the Trek series that I missed when college and the busyness of early working life kept me from watching much television at all. (It didn’t help that my wife really can’t stomach Star Trek, except perhaps the newer movies.)
Science fiction is more than just escapism for nerds, though. This post was prompted by a story I read just recently about a competition to make a working device that mimics the functions (if not the appearance) of the “tricorders” used by medical personnel on Star Trek to diagnose a variety of medical conditions. The winning device, “DxtER,” by an organization called Final Frontier Medical Devices, is now moving to the testing phase with further research and development in cooperation with the FDA. One hopes that devices like this one could one day soon be used in homes to provide initial diagnosis of a variety of medical conditions, perhaps enabling the early identification of looming issues as well as the avoidance of unnecessary and expensive emergency room trips. All inspired by a little device on a fictional program.
This isn’t the first time that Star Trek has inspired new inventions, of course. One needs only to look at the similarity between the communicators on the original Trek series and certain models of cellular telephones, or the resemblance between TNG datapads and tablet computers, or even the development of directed energy weapons by the military to see the positive benefits that sci-fi inspires in the real world. These real-world influences are not limited to gadgetry, either. These programs also communicate, with varying degrees of explicitness, their own particular worldviews. Stories casting a future vision for our world and our societies (as opposed to those set in fictional worlds or historical periods) can greatly influence their audiences’ thinking about what a desirable future looks like and how it should be achieved. In almost all cases, these worldviews are humanistic and relativistic, or in some other sense not Christian. This doesn’t mean that Christian viewers cannot enjoy such programs, of course, but they must do so with a certain critical eye toward the worldviews communicated.
This leads me to wonder, what if authors and screenwriters with real Christian commitments started making serious forays into the sci-fi genre? What if, in addition to theorizing wonderful inventions that might make our lives better, authors portrayed a future society built upon Christian principles rather than secular ones? These stories need not be expressly evangelistic (actually, one of the worst things about “Christian” films and literature is that they try too hard in this way) and certainly shouldn’t be apocalyptic (I’m an amillennialist). Simply approaching the writing process with an underlying Christian commitment could potentially produce great contributions to the cultural conversation as society envisions the both the technology and mores upon which our future will be built.
So, are there models for this kind of writing? Yes, and I occasionally hear book and movie reviews about literature of this kind, but my favorite is C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy. While not set in the future (the timeframe was contemporaneous to Lewis), these stories mix space travel, aliens, and even mythology while depicting the cosmic struggle between good and evil and criticizing the excesses of the secular ideologies which were pervasive in Lewis’s day and ours. Christians hoping to enter into this genre and contribute—as Christians—to the envisioning process that sci-fi engenders would do well to start with reading Lewis.
And until they do, I’ll just go back to watching Voyager. (Yeah, I know, but it’s still new to me….)