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October 1, 2009 7:57 PM   Subscribe

Is mysticism overtaking science in sci-fi? Does Every SF Show Need Jesus Now?
posted by Artw (121 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
wtf: Dune.
posted by felix betachat at 8:15 PM on October 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Um, hasn't it always? Rare is the movie that hews to anything other than the average moviegoer.

I mean, look at how they f%&ed up Contact with the woo-woo, and that book was written by Carl motherfucking Sagan.

The books are fine, as always.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:16 PM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


I was a little confused by that first essay. The author disapprovingly enumerated fantasy tropes, apparently at random, then abruptly started grousing about the latest from Roland "Universal Soldier" Emmerich, who for all his faults has never pretended to be a hard-SF visionary. The article had almost nothing to do with the thesis.

Is mysticism overtaking science?


The real danger is deadlines overtaking columnists.
posted by Iridic at 8:17 PM on October 1, 2009 [8 favorites]


by which I mean: Charles Stross, Neal Stephenson, Iain K Banks, Alistair Reynolds, etc...
posted by leotrotsky at 8:19 PM on October 1, 2009


From a literary standpoint, I can completely understand why religion would come up in any story about aliens visiting Earth. It would almost be strange not to at least touch on it. But out in the depths of space, or on other planets? Maybe not so important to the story.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:19 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


In the first link, 2012 is not Sci-Fi. At best, it's a disaster movie. The reason we're seeing mysticism in Science Fiction is because things like going to the moon and hand held communications devices are reality and passe. Sci-Fi deals with the social implications of technologies and change, it's inherently modern. The social problems we face today deal with identity, collective action, small-actors/actions having outside effects, and mass decentralization. These ideas are realized in questions about morality, power, and yes, the human soul (of which, I might add, science cannot properly address the nature of consciousness, and handwaving it away is as much of a scientific fallacy as anything from the Catholic Church). These are questions of identity and collective action; "Who am I?", "What does it mean that I have an instant audience on Facebook?" Lately, our technologies relate to social distribution of power.

The second article is a lot more interesting, and I would only like to offer the defense that religion is a crutch/stereotype/shortand for establishing meaning and morality. We're not all cultured Atheists, and it's an easy way to discuss the internal conflict of incentives. There's no excuse for doing it wrong, though.

Sci-Fi has always been about morality and and society. It deals with the internal conflict of human nature vs. changing environment, and often assumes the changed environment (e.g. impact of technology) wins out. Sci-Fi literature is pretty close to a modernist myth, I see mysticism as a feature, not a bug.
posted by amuseDetachment at 8:23 PM on October 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Rendezvous with Rama was a hit for Arthur C. Clarke, and for a while after that it seemed that absolutely every story had to have some kind of stupendous, humongous, enormous alien artifact. Patience, this too shall pass.
posted by jfuller at 8:28 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


written by Carl motherfucking Sagan

I will refer to him as this from now on.
posted by hellojed at 8:32 PM on October 1, 2009 [8 favorites]


*stops performing the seventeen rites of Matter And Form*

Oh dear, I guess I'll just have to take out all of the sense of wonder and awe and humbling and curosity and creativity out of my Scientific Romances now? Hey Goethe! Byron! Newton! CUT IT OUT. It's just too fashionable you know? Too on the nose. Sigh. When will people learn?
posted by The Whelk at 8:38 PM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is worth thinking about because it makes you realise how mysticism has always been an integral part of sci-fi.

Valis, Ubik, Battlefield Earth, 2001 and many of the others mentioned in the comments have it in there.
posted by sien at 8:43 PM on October 1, 2009


Religion is deeply important to people, individually and collectively. Inasmuch as your fiction deals with people (your characters), you should consider religion as an aspect of your characters' lives. This is separate from, although related to, the theological truth of your fictional universe - you as author get to decide what is actually true, although you need not make that decision if you don't want to, or it isn't relevant to your story. The default position is of course that characters (like real people) don't actually know the truth, but have beliefs of various strengths that they hold for various reasons and will change or retain in the face of various experiences.

IMO two of the most common religious mistakes in fantasy/SF fiction are: (1) letting some subset of characters have actual knowledge of the real truth behind the world, without fully considering the effect this would have. The only reason religion is such a wide cultural variable here on Earth is that it's impossible (or at least, extraordinarily difficult) to prove the assertions our religions make. If some religion was able to objectively prove its truth--for example, if a prophet arose who genuinely could resurrect the dead, heal the medically-incurable, and transform water to wine on demand--then I have enough belief in the inherent sensibleness of humanity to believe that practice of that religion would shortly overwhelm most others. It would no longer be religion (which is about things that at best might be true); it would be science (which is about things that are true). "Faith" would be irrelevant.

(2) The other extremely common mistake is that non-priests tend to be irreligious. In reality, non-priests are often more fervent in their religious beliefs and expressive behaviors than priests, whichever religion you care to examine.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:44 PM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


And, to back up aeschenkarnos, some of the best, disarmingly breezy and charming discussions about the power of belief in shaping people's mindsets and the world come from an atheist.

I mean, what is Discworld except SF where the rules of physics are different?
posted by The Whelk at 8:49 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Best pop culture SF this year: District 9
Religious content: zilch
posted by martens at 8:53 PM on October 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


sense of wonder and awe

Religion and "sense of wonder and awe" are not synonymous. Quit being a dick.

Religion is deeply important to people, individually and collectively. Inasmuch as your fiction deals with people (your characters), you should consider religion as an aspect of your characters' lives. This is separate from, although related to, the theological truth of your fictional universe - you as author get to decide what is actually true, although you need not make that decision if you don't want to, or it isn't relevant to your story.

The difference between, say, B5 and rebooted Battlestar Galactica.
posted by rodgerd at 9:02 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Religion and "sense of wonder and awe" are not synonymous. Quit being a dick.

That's not what I meant, just that the root of the two impulses are similar. I think I may be responding to something not there and shadowboxing in my head. Apologies.
posted by The Whelk at 9:06 PM on October 1, 2009


written by Carl motherfucking Sagan

I will refer to him as this from now on.


That is what it says on his wallet, after all.
posted by The World Famous at 9:11 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Perhaps the thesis of this and the io9 post is that religion is becoming a more *overt* theme in SciFi. (Because as others have pointed out above, religion *is* a kind of science fiction – that is, a narrative about an alternate reality, and one that encompasses all time.)

As such, it's probably a good thing if you're into agnosticism or atheism. Because once a topic is safe enough to broach in pop culture, it's no longer sacred.
posted by noway at 9:12 PM on October 1, 2009


I was sort of interested in this topic until I realized it said sf "show". Television science fiction. Ehh. Interest level... dropping.
posted by Justinian at 9:13 PM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Emmerich, who for all his faults has never pretended to be a hard-SF visionary. The article had almost nothing to do with the thesis…by which I mean: Charles Stross, Neal Stephenson, Iain K Banks, Alistair Reynolds, etc...

Neal Stephenson doesn't have any mysticism?
posted by delmoi at 9:14 PM on October 1, 2009


martens, I don't know that we can necessarily point to D9 as being devoid of religious context. Remember all the hoo-ha with the Nigerians being convinced that eating alien body parts would confer the ability to use Prawn tech? Granted, it's more of a folk superstition than a true faith, but it's in there.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:21 PM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


That first article was awful. The guy seems to be forgetting that 'sci-fi' isn't just short for 'science'.
posted by voltairemodern at 9:28 PM on October 1, 2009


I would say he doesn't have any stupid mysticism. There's a difference between Foucault's Pendulum and The Da Vinci Code.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:31 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Neal Stephenson has plenty of stupid mysticism, if Snow Crash (a.k.a., the reason I gave up on Neal Stephenson) is any indication.
posted by Rat Spatula at 9:44 PM on October 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Damn, I was really hoping my pathetic memory and lazy googling would slip through without comment. Good catch, Strange Interlude.

To expand, I think I was trying to imply that one of the most interesting, successful, and culturally relevant bits of contemporary SF (District 9) does not fit the trend, described by these articles, of placing increasing emphasis on religion and mysticism. Neither, if I don't make an ass of myself again, does Star Trek. None of the shows in question are better indicators of the general temperature of pop culture SF than those two flicks, so I find the whole notion specious.
posted by martens at 9:45 PM on October 1, 2009


That's Doctor Carl Motherfucking Sagan to you.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:51 PM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Wow. An article straight out of 1980, when cranky editors were decrying the influence of the mystical, only back then it was in the pages of Analog or some such neckbeard magazine.

The main difference is now the hard-SF types are even crankier and more elitist, and dismiss the large quantity of traditional Fantasy and Science Fiction over the decades that DID have religious themes or elements. Hell, in the classic Lensman, the end result is a new generation of gods, and then there's Farmer, Leinster, Blish, and a whole array of other writers who couldn't keep their hands of fantasy elements.

really, the rigidly scientific hard SF subgenre has always been a fairly small portion of SF, and even writers who were known as hard SF writers dabbled in magical non-realism in their short stories.
posted by happyroach at 9:51 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


amuseDetachment: "In the first link, 2012 is not Sci-Fi. At best, it's a disaster movie. "

It's disaster porn, that's what it is.
posted by McSly at 9:58 PM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Can I take this opportunity to say once more how crappy the end of BSG was? And by "end" I mean the last season and a half (barring some great moments here and there). Once they ran out of ideas about what was actually supposed to be going on and decided to make it all "God's Mysterious Plan" that show went down the toilet.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:59 PM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


One thing that I particularly like about the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes that I've seen is that sometime the space ship encounters god-like aliens, but they aren't gods or supernatural so much as they are simply unexplainable by (gibberish) science. I remember in one episode they meet the actual "god" of a planet and Patrick Steward has to out-act the god (he does), but it was stressed that it wasn't a supernatural capital G god but something no one understood.
posted by fuq at 9:59 PM on October 1, 2009


I want to add, to the mention that Dune is mystical, the note that it is excellent. Science fiction has often been mystical; it has also often been anti-scientific or anti-technology. All of these things are potentially very good subjects for science fictions. I think The Glass Bead Game is a fascinating SF, for example -- and it is both mystical and about mysticism.

Sometimes I read books whose ideologies I don't agree completely with. Sometimes I get something out of it. (Not when I read White Noise, though! Pew!)

Of course, it's true that sci-fi movies and TV are by and large horribly stupid (quite apart from the question of whether they are mystical). That's what movies and TV are like! (On average, that is what books are like, too.) I don't really understand SF fans who get emotionally involved in how stupid 2012 is. Sure it's stupid. Don't think of it as part of your identity. Don't make it yours. Don't build your home in it.

I did become emotionally involved in how stupid the BSG ending was, not because I care about all SF but because BSG in particular built me up for years with great human drama and SF themes, only to default spectacularly on all its promise.
posted by grobstein at 10:28 PM on October 1, 2009


I saw that one. Picard challenged him to make a rock so heavy even he couldn't lift it, and the god got all confused, and then Data and Picard began singing opera, and the god wept bitterly, imploding.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:28 PM on October 1, 2009


(For a contemporary hard SF that also has mystical themes, see Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy.)
posted by grobstein at 10:30 PM on October 1, 2009


Can I take this opportunity to say once more how crappy the end of BSG was?

That wasn't the end, and supposedly the Cylons really did have a plan.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:32 PM on October 1, 2009


Uh, guys: Did you ever actually read Contact? It was an awful novel that was completely and utterly full of crazy mysticism. The movie was very close to the novel, and was even a bit more restrained. It was definitely not an example of what you're looking for.
posted by TypographicalError at 10:37 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


That wasn't the end, and supposedly the Cylons really did have a plan.

Oh fuck that.
posted by Artw at 10:38 PM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hype-machine synchronicity: two vacuous, formulaic gossip blogs that are aimed at the SF fan demographic run weak thinkpieces on the same theme within three days of each other.
posted by grobstein at 10:43 PM on October 1, 2009


For me it's not so much that SF must not be poisoned by woo (horrors!), or that Sf has never had woo in it (obviously untrue) so much as the non-woo stuff is getting pretty thin on the ground. It seems like everything has to be woo by defualt now.

As I mentioned on another thread the original Planet of the Apes was all about a scientist shaking up the woo-based establishment. You just wouldn't see that now. Or they'd be presented as a scientist but actually just be serving up some kind of quasi-woo.

And yeah, using your woo as a universal getout for anything is just shitty writing.
posted by Artw at 10:50 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Who cares if sci-fi gets mystical. I'm more concerned that it's getting respectable.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:50 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


We're all missing the real story here, which is that io9 wrote something that isn't a half-assed, poorly thought-out list.
posted by Rangeboy at 10:50 PM on October 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's clearly the work of a higher power.
posted by Artw at 10:52 PM on October 1, 2009


So, elements of fantasy are being introduced into...fantasy? Um.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 10:53 PM on October 1, 2009


Best pop culture SF this year: District 9

Best pop culture SF for several years: Moon.
Religious content: less than zilch.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:54 PM on October 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


If some religion was able to objectively prove its truth--for example, if a prophet arose who genuinely could resurrect the dead, heal the medically-incurable, and transform water to wine on demand--then I have enough belief in the inherent sensibleness of humanity to believe that practice of that religion would shortly overwhelm most others. It would no longer be religion (which is about things that at best might be true); it would be science (which is about things that are true). "Faith" would be irrelevant.

I think this experiment has been done -- the "religion" is science and materialism. Many of the feats we can accomplish with technology now would have been miracles say a thousand years ago (we can heal lots of things that used to be medically incurable!). What, then, has been the result? On the one hand, you could say that science is de facto accepted by most people who have been touched by it, in that they tend to be at peace with the mechanistic explanations of our miracles. On the other hand, faith is not yet irrelevant.

no I am not saying that science is a "religion" in any global sense, or that it is no better than a religion. please keep the wilful misunderstanding patrol away from me.
posted by grobstein at 10:55 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


District 9 and Moon turning up in the same year is like some kind of weird exceptional phenomena that I really wouldn't expect to see occur again for a very long time.

(I'd be *very* happy to be proved wrong in this)
posted by Artw at 10:56 PM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


This whole discussion is one reason why I kind of wish I could get into the habit of using the term "speculative fiction" instead of the "sci-fi" I grew up with.
posted by nightchrome at 11:05 PM on October 1, 2009


American SF has had, nearly from the beginning, a right wing bent. I don't know how American SF has been affected by what's happening in the rest of right wing America, but I expect it has. I'd like to find out more, but these articles don't really go there.
posted by wobh at 11:12 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


the non-woo stuff is getting pretty thin on the ground

I think two things are driving this perception.

One, tv SF in particular is actually pretty thin on the ground. There's not usually more than one or two major serieses being made at any given moment, and often there are zero. Or at least, there's usually no more than one or two fully paid-up SF with spaceships and shit like that major tv series being made at any given time, even if there might also be a Quantum Leap or Automan or Manimal or other arguable SF with no fucking spaceships.

Two, ST:TNG was pretty far towards the secular end of the SF spectrum. But mostly from the perspective of "We're just going to pretty much ignore the topic of religion." It had lots of woo, but restricted its woo to pseudoscientific gobbledygook.

So it makes sense for people looking back, but not too far, to see TNG looming large and see more religion than that in current tv sf.

But consider ST:TOS. Sure, it didn't deal with religion very often, and there was the episode where Apollo is revealed to be an alien poseur. But there's also the one where they find out it's not the sun in the sky, it's the son of God. Or, consider "The Changeling." Problem: killer death robot. Solution: argue with the killer death robot that it has broken the laws of man and God. The killer death robot, driven by its logical robo-circuitry, buys this argument. Interestingly, it follows through to logically deducing that it must execute itself. Anyway, the point is that when religion actually came up, there seemed to be a semi-consistent assumption that everyone in the 22d century was some sort of non-churchgoing Christian.

Or consider the original BSG, which couldn't go 20 seconds without referencing something Mormon and which had Count Iblis, AKA THE FREAKING DEVIL.

Anyway, I don't think it's that there's OMG MORE RELIGION IN MY SF ON TV, it's just that we're recently out of a time (87-94) where the major SF series happened to not have some, followed by another major SF series (B5) that had religious people but turned out to be an explicitly atheist universe (but also had "Passing Through Gethsemane").
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:23 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


IIRC The third season of TOS consisted entirely of episodes about omniscient supercomputers/ and/or all powerful energy beings being mistaken for god. It's like my least favourite Star Trek plot.
posted by Artw at 11:35 PM on October 1, 2009


On the other hand on ST:TNG The Q character was like all of those evil pseudogod superdicks rolled into one annoying bundle, and they *still* made room for other superdickery episodes when he wasn't the focus. Fucking Q.
posted by Artw at 11:47 PM on October 1, 2009


first article: Is mysticism overtaking science in sci-fi?

Next on SyFy: A SyFy Original Movie, The Giant Killer False Dichotomy!
posted by koeselitz at 1:09 AM on October 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Holy crap, that first article is full of stupid. I started to try to respond, but it's no use - the stupid is too powerful for me. Things like

  • "Well, take a look at the nine mystical conceits..." [exactly none of which turn out to be actual religious beliefs held by actual religions]
  • "This is a widespread and by no means objectionable belief, but any clergyman will tell you there's no scientific basis for it." [Clergyman? Why are you asking him?]
  • "This is similar to the Old Testament idea of a 'golem'..." [Argh. Just... oh, forget it.]
  • "The theory of "abiogenesis" dates all the way back to ancient Greece, when the philosopher Aristotle declared that mice could be created from rotting hay and dirty laundry." [*Unintelligible sputtering*]

    Sorry, Wil. I did not DiggTM yr article.

  • posted by koeselitz at 1:25 AM on October 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


    TV/movie sci-fi has always been full of deus-ex-machina, most usually and easily manifest as an aspect of the power of some sort of actual deus. This is why I can't bring myself to watch most of it. It's a copycat industry, and if one show drowning in mysticism is a hit you can be guaranteed there'll be a whole bunch right behind it.
    Imagine you asked a small child with a drawing pad and some crayons to wander around the National Gallery and copy their favourite paintings. The enthusiastic , brightly coloured, barely recognisable renderings would bear the same relationship to the originals that TV sci-fi does to the body of written work. It's not worth the damage to the braincells to try to deconstruct it.
    posted by Jakey at 2:53 AM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Hype-machine synchronicity: two vacuous, formulaic gossip blogs that are aimed at the SF fan demographic run weak thinkpieces on the same theme within three days of each other.

    It's not really synchronicity. It's more "Fall TV season just started up".
    posted by ymgve at 4:40 AM on October 2, 2009


    I was sort of interested in this topic until I realized it said sf "show". Television science fiction. Ehh. Interest level... dropping.

    Seriously. The problems with TV SF have almost everything to do with TV and almost nothing to do with SF.
    posted by DU at 4:50 AM on October 2, 2009


    "We claim it (the Worldgod) as our God, sir," Ferbin said frostily. "Not as some mythical Universal Creator."
    posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 4:54 AM on October 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


    It's weird to see io9 wring its hands about every Sci-Fi show needing a Jesus when they treat so many of them who advertise on the site like they're the Second Coming. I guess every sci-fi blog needs a Sponsorship Jesus. It's not surprising - Gawker sites must make a buck or they go buh-bye - but it makes it really hard to take anything they say without a massive pinch of DOLLHOUSE ON FRIDAY NIGHT-branded salt.
    posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:57 AM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Religious content has always been there because our oldest stories are religious. You cannot write fiction without being influenced in some way by it. The power of myth is all tied into the power of religion. It's not just Jesus. People used to really believe in Zeus. And Thor. And all those old themes are in even a great deal of very old-school sci-fi. It doesn't matter if someone says the word 'God', they're there. Asimov's robots and the golem, but also and the entire concept of mankind as created beings? Heinlein's "All You Zombies" turns mankind into possibly its own creation, did nobody notice that at the time? Kornbluth's Not This August is a very secular book and ends on a prayer. At this point we haven't even left the 1950s and there are a bazillion (v. scientific measurement) other examples.

    In the 1960s, C. S. Lewis actually writes a sci-fi trilogy. Anne McCaffrey also starts writing Pern, a world expressly atheist which still manages to include a prophecy of a savior (and telepathic dragons). In the 1970s, well, we've got the original BSG (more Mormon than the new one) and Zardoz (come on, immortals playing with the lives of mortals?). Or in fiction, look at Frederick Pohl's "vanished but maybe coming back" Heechee. Are we arguing he's not a serious enough science fiction writer now?

    Or go back earlier. 1930s, Brave New World. No, sorry, earlier, let's go back to *1516* when Thomas More wrote Utopia. You know, Thomas More. The Catholic saint. Are we aware how much modern sci-fi owes to works like that?

    Of course there are going to be religious themes, because the themes that come from our religious history are everywhere. They fade back and forth in being more and less overt, but they're always there, even when it's just addressed to disprove it.
    posted by larkspur at 5:03 AM on October 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


    On the other hand on ST:TNG The Q character was like all of those evil pseudogod superdicks rolled into one annoying bundle, and they *still* made room for other superdickery episodes when he wasn't the focus. Fucking Q.

    And then there was that time Wesley Crusher turned into an incorporeal light-god. Fucking Wesley Crusher.
    posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:05 AM on October 2, 2009


    I like the TV tropes take, and a lot of the links out for examples.
    posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:08 AM on October 2, 2009


    Any sufficiently advanced technology science fiction is indistinguishable from magic mysticism.
    posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:09 AM on October 2, 2009


    What puzzles me more is why Sci-Fi shows are the only shows that explore issues of religion. It's like we can't talk about G-d or church (in the sense of religious community, not the physical building) without adding spaceships and aliens.
    posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:19 AM on October 2, 2009


    Is science fiction not supposed to mention religion, mysticism, and other belief systems? Damn, totally missed that one. Here I thought SF was supposed to hold meaning about humans, who sometimes do believe in those things.

    Next you'll be telling me SF shouldn't include people eating meat, or having sex, or singing (well, maybe not all at once).

    Atheist published writer of science fiction here, who's often included religion in stories.
    posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:32 AM on October 2, 2009


    If you haven't read Lord of Light then you should read Lord of Light.

    That is all.
    posted by vbfg at 5:33 AM on October 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


    I was complaining about exactly this with Battlestar Galactica a few months ago.

    It's not just too much religion in SciFi/fantasy... it's too much reliance on Deux ex Machinas in general. What once was merely lazy writing has actually become stylistic. Quick fixes, with no depth or substance.

    For instance... Gaiman's latest Hugo-winner "The Graveyard Book"... which, to its credit, had a lot of elements of his works that I really liked... also had the completely unexplained "Man Jacks"... generic villains from nowhere, essentially... whose only redeeming feature was the tiny amount of style and wit you could squeeze out of their name... to be summoned and dispatched generically.

    Or Neil Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, which had an Deux ex Machina meets Rube Goldberg ending (spoiler!) that was so implausible as to undermine an otherwise strong book. Too clever by far.

    They're both good writers. So why can't they finish their books?!
    posted by markkraft at 5:39 AM on October 2, 2009


    Uh, guys: Did you ever actually read Contact? It was an awful novel that was completely and utterly full of crazy mysticism.

    Yeah. It's not a coincidence that the space shuttle in the novel is named Narnia.
    posted by EarBucket at 6:17 AM on October 2, 2009


    So, uh, Mercerism.

    If you want to be loved and hated, go to a science fiction convention and suggest that there are virtually no good science fiction movies or television! (And you'll note, you didn't see a lot of Mercerism in Blade Runner.)

    It's like there is someone who follows the producer around whispering things like, "Uh, sir, no one is going to get that this character is allegorical for Jesus unless he wears a white robe with a rope for a belt and actually beats people over the head with a bible." or, if that guy was sick that day or something, somebody makes about 3/4ths of a good movie and then the studio freaks out and "fixes it", usually by editing out the plot and replacing it with more extended fight sequences.

    And then, every so often, someone like Rutger Haur pulls something out of his ass. It's enough to make you believe in God.
    posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:29 AM on October 2, 2009


    If the stories have people* in them, why wouldn't those people have beliefs?


    * = "people" might include androids who really want to be human, or dolphins, or sentient mineral deposits of some kind.
    posted by ServSci at 6:30 AM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


    I was sort of interested in this topic until I realized it said sf "show". Television science fiction. Ehh. Interest level... dropping.

    The only science fiction I like is the kind performed by two actors and a chorus. Screw that punk Sophocles.
    posted by kmz at 6:36 AM on October 2, 2009


    science cannot properly address the nature of consciousness
    posted by amuseDetachment

    Yet.
    posted by haveanicesummer at 6:47 AM on October 2, 2009


    Zardoz (come on, immortals playing with the lives of mortals?)

    [morbo]
    ZARDOZ DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY
    [/morbo]
    posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:48 AM on October 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


    I'll take this opportunity to say BSG was awesome, right through to the end.
    posted by spaltavian at 6:55 AM on October 2, 2009


    SF examining the nature of religion and faith - good. (ie, off the top of my head, The Streets of Ashkelon)

    SF using religion to wheel on a deux et machina cop-out ending, bad (BSG)
    posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:08 AM on October 2, 2009


    Oh if we're bitching about BSG, can I just say that the real thing that pissed me off wasn't the woo ending (cause seriously, wrote themselves into a corner Big Time) or the dangling plot lines (So many loose ends you start saying it's a shaggy scarf not a sweater) it was that the handwavey woo ending was so badly thought out. It was lazy. Hell, I figured you could have made the ending a better just by changing two scenes. .Not like it would've cost more, still Heavy Woo, but not quite so much "hey remember all those characters you love? Fuck em, we're running out of time and I got dinner reservations."


    GODDAMIT I WAS TIRED OF BEING ANGRY ABOUT THIS MONTHS AGO! GOD DAMNED NONSENSICAL FREEGAN FUTURE/PAST! GAH!
    posted by The Whelk at 7:17 AM on October 2, 2009


    The only science fiction I like is the kind performed by two actors and a chorus. Screw that punk Sophocles.

    like ...something from another world.
    posted by The Whelk at 7:19 AM on October 2, 2009


    Transformers 3 Already Being Created For 2011, Confirms Bay - proof that there is no god!
    posted by Artw at 7:36 AM on October 2, 2009


    Just a quick point about "Dune" - Read the books, rather than taking the movies as (forgive the pun in this context) "gospel".

    Herbert not only didn't make it "mystical", he went to great lengths to outright mock society's primitive notions of spooooky intervention by our big friend in the sky.

    [Spoilers follow]

    Herbert explains away every "trick" in his books. The Fremen legends? All planted by the Bene Gesserit in case one of their sisters should find herself stuck on Arrakis (exactly as Lady Jessica did). The "superpowers" shown by the Bene Gesserit (and various others), just a combination of breeding for physical and mental ability, combined with training from birth on how to properly use their bodies. Even Leto's (and Paul's, to a lesser degree) prescience merely comes from having the mental horsepower to run through every possible scenario that could occur from a given moment.

    But mysticism? No. Not a drop. Cold hard science every step of the way.
    posted by pla at 7:57 AM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


    I got an Idea! Bare with me for a second:

    Scene - Dessert town... on the bottom 33 AD.
    Music: Middle eastern Moaning
    Camera scrolls up showing a hill with 3 crosses.

    Voice over: " He was nailed to a cross and left for what we thought was dead. We were Dead Wrong!"

    Scene flashes to a modern looking barrack.
    Music: Something slower, with a little more bass.
    Camera: Focuses on a pair of combat boots and slowly pans out showing a man dressed in camo pants with a white tank top. He has a full beard and long hair. He has a cigar between his lips that he lights with a flame thrower. He removes the cigar from his lips and says" I use to think Prayer was the only way to purified the soul... Now I know fire does a better job!" He then torches the camera.

    In big bold letters: The Rise of Space Jesus Drop Podding to a theater near you in 2012.

    Tagline - He may have come in peace the first time... but now he wants to leave you in pieces!
    posted by Mastercheddaar at 8:00 AM on October 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


    SF examining the nature of religion and faith - good. (ie, off the top of my head, The Streets of Ashkelon)

    There's also Let's Go to Golgotha and The Star.

    and for novels, there's The Sparrow and A Canticle for Leibowitz.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:00 AM on October 2, 2009


    Or Neil Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, which had an Deux ex Machina meets Rube Goldberg ending (spoiler!) that was so implausible as to undermine an otherwise strong book. Too clever by far.

    Eh? Your link winds up concluding that it is plausible rather than implausible, I think. I've got no expertise myself, but the back-of-the-envelope calculations you linked to appear to suggest the scheme could work.
    posted by grobstein at 8:06 AM on October 2, 2009


    But mysticism? No. Not a drop. Cold hard science every step of the way.

    Did we read the same Dune? In many ways it deconstructs mysticism, but there's a lot of mysticism nevertheless. The whole saga, especially the first four books, is about messiahs and how messiahs can help and also how they can fuck everything up. And prescience was definitely more than just some form of psychohistory. The reason Leto II decided he had to die was because his prescience was basically fixing the future into a static state.

    And that's not getting to the face dancers, gholas, and the idea of a frickin kwisatz haderach.
    posted by kmz at 8:09 AM on October 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


    My favorite encroachment of woo in science fiction is the His Dark Materials series, written by a writer renowned for his atheism, which (spoilers?) involved actual visible souls, ghosts, a hero with an unheal-able wound, mystical sentient Dust, Charon, Hades, Gorgons, and a Harrowing of Hell.

    You could of course just call it "fantasy" but then you get a difference without a distinction, in that alternate universes/God as decrepit alien being are definitely sci-fi concepts.

    And speaking of Star Trek, DS9 had lots of woo with the Bajorans, and Captain Sisko as the Emissary of the Magic Box, and Ancestors and whatnot. Though they left themselves an out with "it's not *really* religion, just superpowerful aliens on another plane messing with us!"

    I did enjoy the whole deconstruction of the Klingon religion when Worf meets the cloned Klingon-Jesus though. That was harsh.
    posted by emjaybee at 8:12 AM on October 2, 2009


    There's the profoundly atheist Russel T. Davies as well, and his tendency to turn Doctor Who into space Jesus at every opportunity.
    posted by Artw at 8:15 AM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Philip K. Dick's book The Divine Invasion was an incredible blend of woo-ness from both the sciencey and religiony ends of the spectrum, and the world is better for it.

    Good storytelling is good storytelling, no matter what the content or the author's beliefs. Blaming this on people's interest in religious and mystical themes just makes you sound like cranky hyper-materialistic scrooges.
    posted by hermitosis at 8:16 AM on October 2, 2009


    "As such, it's probably a good thing if you're into agnosticism or atheism. Because once a topic is safe enough to broach in pop culture, it's no longer sacred."

    Oh, Christ, if only. Pop culture has been dealing with religion for a long time, and some folks still take it really seriously.

    "People used to really believe in Zeus. And Thor."

    Eh. I'm always wary of trying to impose modern views about belief back onto ancient pagans. Reading a fair number of pre-Socratics (or at least their fragments) alongside Homer, and you'll see that ancient belief was fairly varied and much more insightful and weird than it gets credit for. I tend to think of people's beliefs as more post-hoc justification for superstition tied up with a philosophical desire to make the world rationally comprehensible. (This is, of course, ignoring that a lot of pre-Socratics saw a steeply divided but coexistently rational and irrational cosmology.) Not too long ago, I was talking with a friend of a friend who studies how Sumerians conceptualized their religion, and he was saying that as far as we can tell, superstition precedes deity. The "spells" to protect grain stores were believed to be real, but that the deities that vouchsafed those spells came after the spells had been fairly codified; the gods were more shorthand for attributes than understood as corporeal or independent forces.
    posted by klangklangston at 8:57 AM on October 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


    I mean, look at how they f%&ed up Contact with the woo-woo, and that book was written by Carl motherfucking Sagan.

    Uh, guys: Did you ever actually read Contact? It was an awful novel that was completely and utterly full of crazy mysticism.


    I think it's kind of amusing that the moral of Contact seems to go over the heads of most atheists. Try rereading the novel with an open mind to what Sagan might have been saying about his own life's goal.
    posted by shii at 8:59 AM on October 2, 2009


    kmz : The whole saga, especially the first four books, is about messiahs and how messiahs can help and also how they can fuck everything up.

    True in one sense, But it shows both sides of the coin. Herbert doesn't portray his "gods" as in any way preternatural, instead showing them as merely the logical extension of our current ideas about evolution and computational ability.


    And prescience was definitely more than just some form of psychohistory. The reason Leto II decided he had to die was because his prescience was basically fixing the future into a static state.

    Hmm, I don't know that I'd 100% agree with that, but taking it as a valid possible interpretation, I still wouldn't attribute any mysticality to it - He "fixed" the future simply because any choice he made which maximized the odds of his continued existence necessarily solidified the status quo. And indeed, the very fact that he couldn't escape that path without dying only serves to demonstrate that his "power" came solely from selection of calculable outcomes rather than any sort of direct power to manipulate time.


    And that's not getting to the face dancers, gholas, and the idea of a frickin kwisatz haderach.

    Herbert established the Tleilaxu as masters of genetic engineering, nothing more... Imagine a sentient chameleon-plus, if you will. As for the Kwizatz Haderach, again, just the end-product of the BG's breeding program, a human (even if that part didn't work out so well) with enough CPU power in his head to "see" all possible futures clearly.


    Did we read the same Dune?

    Perhaps not - We all experience our world through the filters of our own biases. As for which of our interpretations counts as "correct" - I can't say that I know whether or not the question even has meaning. :)
    posted by pla at 9:14 AM on October 2, 2009


    The Star Wars prequels are the obvious object lesson of how demystification is not always your friend.
    posted by PunkSoTawny at 9:16 AM on October 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


    "It's not some kind of mysterious woo field permeating the universe - it's actually woo microbes!"
    posted by Artw at 9:17 AM on October 2, 2009


    Perhaps not - We all experience our world through the filters of our own biases. As for which of our interpretations counts as "correct" - I can't say that I know whether or not the question even has meaning. :)

    I guess I just have a hard time with the idea that we would ever be able to evolve to those kind of powers. But Clarke's axiom comes into play at some point too.

    Now I want to go and reread the whole Saga.

    And that's six books and six books only. Pro fanfic doesn't count.
    posted by kmz at 9:34 AM on October 2, 2009


    I love Neil Stephenson, but Cryptonomicon is the only decent ending the man ever wrote.
    posted by vibrotronica at 9:37 AM on October 2, 2009


    Regarding the post's thesis, I have been noticing more of it, but I'm not sure if that's because I've been reading a lot more early detective stories. Agatha Christie, especially, overlaps her detectives with a lot of pseudoscience and spiritualism (mediums, trances, "destiny," curses, etc.) which are totally bizarre to see treated as actual science. And I just started reading a book which is overtly about the "secret rites and Mysteries," you know, Masons and Rosicrucians and the like, and what's odd about it is how it takes a purportedly factual approach to a lot of this while simultaneously encouraging some serious craziness. Reading the introduction was like stepping into a weird alternate world, one that doesn't acknowledge the one that I live in, where the history of philosophy was described in terms that were correct but fairly misleading. It starts out, "Philosophy is the science of estimating values," and later in that paragraph concludes, "The mission of philosophy a priori is to establish the relation of manifested things to their invisible ultimate cause or nature." The real howler was when Modern German philosophy jumped from Nietzsche to "Freudianism" and "Relativism (often called the Einstein theory)." Of the latter, it's described as an attack on "the accuracy of mechanical principles dependent upon the present theory of velocity." The writer, Manly P. Hall, was roughly contemporaneous with Christie, and it's interesting to see that same pseudo-scientific mysticism that pervades her work made explicit in Hall's.
    But it's even off-putting to see it in some of Hammett, whose murderous cultists ride the line between hoax and mysticism. In the Dain Curse, there's a lot taken credulously that seems fairly contrived or unconvincing to a modern reader, just as stories of mistaken identity work better in books where you can't see the greasepaint or false mustaches.
    I tend to feel like a lot of the current religiousity, which I'd distinguish from actual religion, is the trickling down of the last gasps of millennial tension (which, at least in this poorly considered comment, I'll also blame for the Bush administration and anti-intellectualism as a whole). The 20th Century had a lot of back and forth between the promise and threat of science—it's sometimes strange that the Holocaust was fomented by anti-Modern forces, yet due to the organizational skill inherent a lot of folks reacted to it as a failure of Modernity—and I think that at least in America, a lot of the hardness of hard science was ground down. I'm also feeling like, and again, I can't tell whether this is an idea I'll continue with, I'm feeling like a lot of the weirdness and diversity of human thought, including science, has been diminished by the dominance of Christian tropes in the broader rhetoric. I do feel like the fringe Christians have capitalized on new media paradigms to over-amplify their voice and to exaggerate the strength of their faction, and I think that contemporary culture responds to that by echoing the blasts from their megaphone back at them. That their theology and philosophy is poorly considered and full of woo is reflected in the perfunctory and muddled images of it in pop culture—actual deep examinations of faith and Christianity would offend nominal Christians who do not enjoy nor participate in deep examinations of their faith. More, it's important simply to kowtow to their cultural presence and then ignore any questions of meaning, which is a disservice both to people of faith and those without it. I know that the dumbing down of culture is a constant refrain from everyone everywhere in every time, but I think that's because there are always certain modes of communication that are being degraded even as others are strengthened, and I think that the discourse of faith in popular America has been notably degraded.
    I'd also say that one of the other problems is that I feel like that in the science fiction I read, there's less of a sense of a definite paradigm shift occurring in the future; the science, even at its most extrapolated, either feels merely incremental or wildly false. I wonder if that comes from the hubris of contemporary life, where advances in science do mean that we know more than ever before, but we expect lines of inquiry to proceed mostly along the same paths. Regardless, I think that means that there's a tendency to want to use, how should I say, unmaterialist plot points? If science feels safely apace, imagining an alternative that exists outside of materialism feels more innovative, especially as it references the magical thinking that many people believe instinctively true. Science feels prosaic; religion reaffirms poetry.
    Finally, and I was thinking about this last night, media is more entertaining and makes more sense than actual experiences—I just got done with jury duty, and the number one comment from other jurors was how much they wanted some sort of television narrative. The case didn't make sense without one. But living a life that's almost constantly mediated means missing out on first-hand sense experience, something that compared to media is inherently transcendental (I'd prefer to state that the other way around, but I couldn't think of a good antonym for "transcend"). It makes sense for media to respond to that unconscious lack, that first-level experience, with translated versions of it. This is especially true when you think of religion as something that's supposed to be beyond human experience—if that's a constant desire of humanity, which I think it is, and media can only approximate reality, then it makes sense that the transcendental that it offers would be smaller and more mean and mealy than actual transcendence, which would only amplify the desire for true transcendence without providing the means to experience it. Awe and wonder isn't only accessible through religion, but I think that far too few people understand how to grasp it through a purely materialist outlook. The universe is amazing, literally, but apprehending that without mysticism isn't necessarily how most people have learned to approach it.
    posted by klangklangston at 9:44 AM on October 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


    As for the Kwizatz Haderach, again, just the end-product of the BG's breeding program, a human (even if that part didn't work out so well) with enough CPU power in his head to "see" all possible futures clearly.

    This is the only part of your Dune reading I really find myself disagreeing with. I don't remember prescience being explained as just the result of being able to think through possible futures very quickly (NB this shouldn't be physically possible). Then again I haven't read Dune in a long time and would love to know if I'm misremembering.

    More broadly, a novel is (I think) mystical if it focuses on mystical experiences, especially from the subjective view, even if those experiences are compatible with a naturalistic explanation. This is why I think of Red Mars as mystical -- it's hard SF, but it's got whirling dervishes and secret orders of gardeners. Likewise The Glass Bead Game is mystical because it makes mystical practices and worldviews key to its imagined intellectual world; it doesn't matter whether any of these violate known physical laws. "Mysticism" is not just a synonym for "religion," although mystical religions have been the most important purveyors of mysticism through the ages.

    If my contributions to this thread have accidentally used a different language from the post and the articles, I regret it. But I do think it's sloppy to use "mysticism" as a generic term for fuzzy thinking.
    posted by grobstein at 9:55 AM on October 2, 2009


    I love Neil Stephenson, but Cryptonomicon is the only decent ending the man ever wrote.
    posted by vibrotronica


    Wow, I totally disagree. I thought the ending was clumsy, ridiculous, and unearned. And tainted by a sudden a sudden jolt of mysticism, as far as that goes. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
    posted by COBRA! at 10:05 AM on October 2, 2009


    There's the profoundly atheist Russel T. Davies as well, and his tendency to turn Doctor Who into space Jesus at every opportunity.

    And he okayed an episode in which the Doctor met Satan. That was embarrassing.
    posted by painquale at 10:36 AM on October 2, 2009


    Re: Dune & Prescience

    It's been about 16 years since I read the original sextet, but if I remember correctly, the impression that I got was that seeing into the future was a kind of Heisenberg-y thing. In the normal state of things, every moment spawns an infinite number of possible futures. As first Paul then Leto II began to look into the future, they started collapsing those possibilities. The further they looked into the future, the further they limited the path that future history would take. Both glimpsed or sensed a threat in the future that would eradicate humanity; this caused Paul to abandon his role as Kwisatch Haderach altogether. He was afraid that he would look too far into the future and set a course for destruction; he wasn't confidant in his own strength to simply act without seeing the consequences, and he was afraid his actions would lead down the wrong path. Leto II was in control enough to recognize the danger and stop his prescience at a certain point.
    posted by Saxon Kane at 11:20 AM on October 2, 2009


    That wasn't the end, and supposedly the Cylons really did have a plan.
    1. Replace 'disco' elements from TOS with social/political undertones
    2. Shake camera to inject a sense of gritty realism
    3. ???
    4. PROFIT!!!
    posted by mazola at 11:23 AM on October 2, 2009


    Jakey: Imagine you asked a small child with a drawing pad and some crayons to wander around the National Gallery and copy their favourite paintings. The enthusiastic, brightly coloured, barely recognisable renderings would bear the same relationship to the originals that TV sci-fi does to the body of written work.

    Say! That's pretty good.

    In practice, though, it'd be a committee of small children.
    posted by Herodios at 11:41 AM on October 2, 2009


    And he okayed an episode in which the Doctor met Satan. That was embarrassing.

    That episode actually made me stop watching the new Who, cause he defeats SATAN by SHOUTING at him. It was worse than an anti-climax, it was like Drama Lite Imitation Brand No-Cal Climax Substitute.
    posted by The Whelk at 11:43 AM on October 2, 2009


    painquale: And he okayed an episode in which the Doctor met Satan. That was embarrassing.

    See, here we have another example of different interpretations based on how we see the world.

    You see that as somehow a nod to the paranormal; I see it as a random big red horned evil space monster with the power to "possess" people (and Oods), trapped (probably for a good reason) by a black hole.

    If anything, I'd take it as a slap-in-the-face to Christianity, almost mocking them for taking a perfectly normal space monster and making it the Big Bad of their religion.

    As an aside, the episode you mention actually comes pretty close to a remake of an earlier arc, "Planet of Evil" from 1975, which didn't have any religious overtones to it.
    posted by pla at 11:48 AM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Ah, with regards to the Dune saga, I stepped back and looked at Frank Herbert's original writing to get what was a central theme about prescience.

    First off, prescience requires several things — the Bene Gesserit breeding program, to capture and then concentrate wild genes in the best physical and mental specimen they could produce. While being a mentat is required for the ability to objectively and coldly evaluate all of the probabilities seen during a deep spice vision, that is hardly all; Piter de Vries, as brilliant as he is, had no chance to become the Kwisatz Haderach, lacking both the genes and the water of life. It took a very long time for all of the elements to come together in Paul Atreides, and it happened when the Sisterhood had not expected it.

    Paul, as Maud'dib, has glimpses of potential futures and trends, guided by his mother's training and fed both by the wisdom of leadership he received from his father and by his mentat ability to follow through on conclusions; still, he needed to be saturated with spice and genetic quirks for this to be pulled off. Finally, he had to face a Crisis (just as he had understood that the test of Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam was crisis) — convert the poison in the water of life, or die, to trigger it all. And what he saw was terrible:

    Aside from the mere immediate task of fixing the empire, he saw that prescience itself was a trap. Prescience is predictability. He set things as well as he could, then abandoned his role. Leto II had to take on this most terrible understanding. The understanding was thus: As long as humanity could be located, either by mystical prescience or simple understanding of human behavior, it could be wiped out. An alien race, the forgotten machines, or simply a long, mad jihad could destroy humanity because each and every human could be located and destroyed.

    Leto II creates his Golden Path. First, he scatters the Atreides genes amongst the Bene Gesserit. Almost all of them bear the signs. He also spreads them through the populace. Second, he creates a system of horrible oppression — he knows that humanity loves the yoke, adores the strongman, and can be so easily controlled. He will grind upon his empire until it finally resists. He has forever to do this, because he will live, as a vast human/sandworm hybrid, until he is at last assassinated. He would teach humanity a lesson that it would rememeber "in its bones."

    What at last happens is that the Atreides genes finally come up with a combination that is invisible to his prescience; a person who cannot be seen, therefore, cannot be hunted down. Siona Atreides is the first, but not the last, person with this talent. The God-Emperor at last has someone worthy of being his assassin. At the same time, the Ixians (many machines on Ix, new machines) have begun to mass produce their no-chambers, which are shielded also from prescient view. Leto II is finally slain, after over three thousand years.

    The empire, without its strongman, begins to starve. Driven by famine and deprivation, humanity spreads out across the galaxy, some in no-ships; this Scattering calls back to the spread of Atreides genes. Now, humanity can at least have a hope of surviving millions of years, because some of them can never be found, and the remainder no longer have such a strong urge to venerate a single person and enslave themselves to a cause.

    The brief passage which holds the clue to all of this is easily skimmed past. I cannot even remember what book it is in or what character witnesses a group of dervishes on Arrakis dancing. The goal of the dance is to make it ever-longer, without repeating. Like evading a sandworm, you must not have a repeating pattern, if you can help it. That very predictability draws the Worm, draws Fate itself to come swallow you up. Leto II created the Golden Path and sacrificed himself to it to stick his thumb in the eye of watchful prescience, so that humanity might at last have a chance to escape the trap of predictability on the greatest scales of time.
    posted by adipocere at 12:50 PM on October 2, 2009 [17 favorites]


    You see that as somehow a nod to the paranormal; I see it as a random big red horned evil space monster with the power to "possess" people (and Oods), trapped (probably for a good reason) by a black hole.

    The Beast had the power of telepathy, could possess people, could see people's secrets and fears, could see the future, and apparently existed before creation. That's too much. Even the hyper-competent Doctor was mystified by all of this (even to him, The Beast wasn't "a perfectly normal space monster.") If anything in the Doctor Who universe could ever count as paranormal, the Beast qualifies. (That and the power of hope defeating the Master.)

    I might feel differently if the episodes were good.
    posted by painquale at 2:31 PM on October 2, 2009


    PunkSoTawny : The Star Wars prequels are the obvious object lesson of how demystification is not always your friend.

    See also: Highlander 21, which attempted to take a perfectly good fantasy story and try to shoehorn it into a demystified sci-fi universe. A pointless thing to do that ruined the franchise2.

    1: Do not actually "see also".

    2: It didn't actually ruin the franchise, because it never happened. No sequels were ever made. LALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU I HAVE MY FINGERS IN MY EARS...

    posted by quin at 3:19 PM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


    If there ever was a movie made not tohave a sequel, it was Highlander. And if there was evera way not a way to do it, it was Highlander 2.
    posted by Artw at 3:37 PM on October 2, 2009


    All I know is that they better stop with all this "The One" bullshit.
    posted by Bugbread at 3:38 PM on October 2, 2009


    (my general understanding of the way the backstory to Scientology works is kind of muddled in my head with Highlander 2, which probably makes Scientology seem a lot more weird and intersting than it actually is. Or maybe not.)
    posted by Artw at 3:39 PM on October 2, 2009


    Has Highlander ever had a decent sequel? I didn't know, according to Wikipedia, Highlander II was re-edited several times. The best part of the wiki is the Ebert qoute:

    Among critics, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a score of 0.5 star (out of four), saying: "Highlander II: The Quickening is the most hilariously incomprehensible movie I've seen in many a long day—a movie almost awesome in its badness. Wherever science fiction fans gather, in decades and generations to come, this film will be remembered in hushed tones as one of the immortal low points of the genre."

    Oh, I guess they're doing a remake?

    What, there's an anime?
    posted by P.o.B. at 5:43 PM on October 2, 2009


    I love Neil Stephenson, but Cryptonomicon is the only decent ending the man ever wrote.

    With Stephenson, it's not the destination, it's the journey. That said, I think Anathem wound itself up surprisingly well.
    posted by delmoi at 1:45 AM on October 3, 2009


    Huh, I just found This video of N.S. doing a Q&A at Google He actually addresses the ending issue around 10 minutes in.
    posted by delmoi at 2:21 AM on October 3, 2009


    "Wow, I totally disagree. I thought the ending was clumsy, ridiculous, and unearned..."

    My thoughts exactly.

    It's not whether or not his entirely-too-clever ending could work. It's all the reasons you mentioned.

    Just think what he could've done with two sporks, a pocketful of rubberbands, some twigs, Revlon tweezers -- the good ones -- and some hemp!
    posted by markkraft at 4:18 AM on October 3, 2009


    I think Anathem wound itself up surprisingly well.

    Well, yeah, except that he should have quit while he was ahead. The very last scene in the book made me barf up stuff my grandmother ate.
    posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:51 AM on October 3, 2009


    I think it's kind of amusing that the moral of Contact seems to go over the heads of most atheists. Try rereading the novel with an open mind to what Sagan might have been saying about his own life's goal.

    I don't know that it had one moral, I think it had several. I read Contact after reading The Demon Haunted World and I was struck by the similarities in what Sagan describes as peoples' wish fulfillment (aliens or god-like beings) bringing messages of peace and hope - and what happened to the five passengers on the alien craft.

    They come back with no proof of their experiences, and so now it's a question of faith, much like teenagers who see Mary in the sunset.

    posted by lysdexic at 7:45 AM on October 3, 2009


    It wasn't only faith, lysdexic, though the cameras in the craft recorded static, they taped longer than it appeared to observers on Earth.
    posted by Pronoiac at 3:16 PM on October 3, 2009


    Has Highlander ever had a decent sequel?

    Not really. I thought the TV series was fun. Later they tried to combine the series with the first film in Highlander: Endgame, but it just didn't work.
    posted by homunculus at 3:15 PM on October 4, 2009


    I knew there was a story I was forgetting... Clarke's "Nine Billion Names of God".
    posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:39 AM on October 5, 2009


    pla: As an aside, the episode you mention actually comes pretty close to a remake of an earlier arc, "Planet of Evil" from 1975, which didn't have any religious overtones to it.

    That's interesting; I'd never thought of it that way. That certainly at least starts to make The Satan Pit more palatable. Personally, maybe because I couldn't believe that they were actually throwing in Satan as a character and even then it was incongruous to me, I kept thinking of that arc as having more H. P. Lovecraft-type overtones.

    However, one interesting thing you remind me of: those classic years of Doctor Who – the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, '75-'83 or whatever – are probably the least religion-tinged sci-fi I can think of. And frankly Who is the most scientific of series I can think of, not because they replicate actual scientific facts but because the Doctor spends almost all of his time laughing at superstition and yet at the same time keeping an open mind and hoping to discover things. That's the standard plot, right? They appear somewhere; there is some strange alien threat; there are humanoids or otherwise normal people, but the otherwise normal people don't believe the Doctor and his companion until it's almost too late because of some superstition or some closed-mindedness.

    That might actually be another thing to think about here, in fact. It's all well and good to worry that there's too much hokey spirituality in sci-fi, and there very well might be; but what the hell happened to all the science? Isn't that a better question? I mean, to take one obvious question: why aren't there any actual scientists in science fiction anymore? There used to be: the Doctor (of course), Spock...
    posted by koeselitz at 8:18 AM on October 5, 2009


    shii: I think it's kind of amusing that the moral of Contact seems to go over the heads of most atheists. Try rereading the novel with an open mind to what Sagan might have been saying about his own life's goal.

    What, you mean the annihilation of faith? Not that that would be a horrible thing, but if Contact really represents 'Carl Sagan's life's goal' (which by the way is frankly a ridiculous and utterly silly way to see things; I can think of no really worthwhile religion or atheistic world view that sees life in terms of goals, and the association stinks of self-help novels, expensive seminars, and evangelicalism) then Carl Sagan's life's goal is to find proof for God, thereby completely annihilating religion.

    People seem to ignore the fact that in the even that the whole truth is uncovered we won't need religion any more. I say this as a religious person.
    posted by koeselitz at 8:22 AM on October 5, 2009


    Caveman Science Fiction - You am play gods!
    posted by Artw at 9:04 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Leonard Nimoy is Concerned About the State of Science Fiction on TV
    posted by Artw at 4:13 PM on October 7, 2009


    Leonard Nimoy is Concerned About the State of Science Fiction on TV

    That sounds like a lolcat
    posted by grobstein at 6:05 PM on October 7, 2009


    Needs an image from Spocks Brain, or possibly Spock looking into that science-periscope thing.
    posted by Artw at 6:17 PM on October 7, 2009


    If you wish science fiction would have a bit more actual science (and focus on the near future instead of the year 5 billion), you'll be thrilled that When It Changed, an anthology pairing scientists and SF authors, is out.
    posted by Artw at 4:16 PM on October 23, 2009


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