Mars and Moon landings, Neil Armstong and sci-fi (@soonguy)

cosmosThe Mars Curiosity landing, and our farewell salutes to Neil Armstrong, bring to mind several sci-fi/fantasy books and short stories based on Moon or Mars landings. These have a spiritual dimension that raises conversation-starting and thought-provoking questions.

Although you may not be a particular sci-fi fan, such stories can be compelling fiction. By placing story at a distance from normal human experience, sci-fi has huge potential to explore spiritual concepts.

Therefore sci-fi stories can be wonderful gifts for any thinking teen or adult, and great for discussions in student or youth groups, any adult book club, or online through social networking – a strategy we can also use with many other types of films and books.

Short stories

There are two thought-provoking short stories based on Moon and Mars landings:

  • Forms of Things Unknown by C S Lewis describes a moon landing. Three previous attempts had been initially successful, but then radio contact was permanently lost. Lewis marries Greek mythology with space exploration, leading to a chilling denouement. (Without giving you a spoiler, it’s a biblical metaphor that also appears in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.) Though not in print, you can find this story secondhand, packaged within The Dark Tower and Other Stories.(Footnotes to the Apollo landing: the first food consumed on the Moon was holy communion, brought by Buzz Aldrin; and the recent family memorial service for Neil Armstrong was not only on the day of a full moon, but also a ‘calendar’ blue moon – the second full moon within a month.)
  • Mars is Heaven by Ray Bradbury narrates a manned Mars landing, where everything is rather too much like home. Another chilling ending and a thought-provoking piece about deception. It is included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. 1: 1929-1964, an anthology of 26 best sci-fi short stories, which also contains the moving Flowers for Algernon.

Full-length novels

Stephen Lawhead’s Dream Thief is available on Kindle, and secondhand as a paperback. It’s an exciting and well-crafted story including a Mars landing, with a clear Christian message. Lawhead’s two Empyrion books Empyrion 1: The Search for Fierra and Empyrion II: The Siege of Dome are similarly themed, and worth a look (also available on Kindle, or secondhand).

Perhaps overshadowed by his children’s books, the C S Lewis sci-fi trilogy deserves a far higher profile. They are classics from a master writer who understood how to embed spiritual truths and questions within story. He called this ‘smuggling theology‘:

  • Out of the Silent Planet cleverly explores spiritual themes without their christianese names, including God, evil, and the possibility of an unfallen world – Mars.
  • Perelandra is set on Venus, and examines in detail the themes of temptation and incoming evil into a perfect world. (He also covered these more simply in The Magician’s Nephew.)
  • The final book in the trilogy, That Hideous Strength, is UK-based but draws on characters and events from the other two books.

More sci-fi opportunities

Many other sci-fi books, TV programmes and films contain unintended spiritual parallels. Dr Who, for instance, raises valuable discussion questions and parallels about life, spirituality and more. Culturewatch ministry Damaris has explored these themes in Dr Who. Powerful films such as Avatar and Inception make great discussion topics – see Damaris articles/study guides on Avatar | Inception | The Matrix | The Matrix Revolutions | Matrix Reloaded | Source Code | AI | Contact | District 9 | I, Robot and a range of other sci-fi/fantasy movies. They also offer Viewfinder resources for you to use movie themes within church services for 18-30s, and some of these are sci-fi/fantasy.

Zenna Henderson wrote sci-fi with a spiritual angle. And of course the Lord of the Rings fantasy is full of spiritual parallels. Some of the wonderful Studio Ghibli animations are broadly sci-fi or fantasy.

If you’d like to follow sci-fi related news, Christian academic and writer Terri Main runs the daily Paper.li Science Fiction Today. She has authored sci-fi books A Question of Defense | Parmenters Wager | Dark Side of the Moon.

The unique strength of sci-fi

Sci-fi and fantasy stories have a much under-estimated potential to communicate spiritual truths and start conversations across common ground, in youth groups, book discussions or online through Facebook etc. How could you use them? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment form below.

Terri Main explains:

“Science fiction is uniquely positioned to address social and spiritual issues in a non-threatening way. Placing something in the future, or on another planet, or in another dimension, gives us enough distance to see the implications of the advance of science and technology or the progress of social trends. In a science fiction story, you can take a single trend and exaggerate that trend into a future dominated by it and see the implications. One of the most powerful episodes of the original Star Trek series, broadcast in the late 1960s, featured a culture where two races fought each other to extinction. The big difference between the races – one had the right side of the face black and the left white. The other was the reverse. That program said more about the silliness of racial discrimination than all the speeches, riots or demonstrations could ever do. Christian ministries could learn much from the parables of the future called science fiction.”

• Related BigBible post: Techno Dystopia in Film

• Related popular culture opportunity: plan in advance for Les Miserables film release

• Plan in advance for internet outreach for Christmas and your church

Graphic credit: Exper Giovanni Rubaltelli | Creative Commons/Flickr

Editor’s note – look out for #cnmac12, with its core theme of ‘story’.

About soonguy

Tony Whittaker is coordinator for Internet Evangelism Day | Team member, SOON Ministries, Derby UK. Contact him here.