Tag Archives: science fiction

A Flood of Great Writing Techniques in Noah: (Re)-Writing/Expanding Sacred Stories

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Russell Crowe as Noah

Let me praise Aronofsky’s Noah for its fleshing out of an iconic thin narrative of Noah in the Bible and making it a story.

The story of Noah in the Bible is relatively sparse.  Noah never says anything.  God does all the talking.  In the movie, well, God may be doing some communicating, but since the narrative is told more from the ground, from Noah and his family’s perspective, Noah is the main character, making choices.

Making choices.  I think that’s an important thing to highlight.  One of the strange ironies of religious life, it seems, is that the closer we get to our God, whomever that may be, the seemingly fewer choices we get–until we are the Hand of God, the Feet of God, the Puppet of God.  I don’t think this is really the case.  But depiction in movies and books sometimes have us think characters who are devoted to their god cease to think and act based completely on the commands of God.  One should add “the interpretation of what they believe to be” between “on” and “the” in that last sentence. Because in many cases, believers have to do a lot of interpreting.

The movie holds out that question to answer.  Certainly Noah has to decide HOW he is hearing God.  He gets parts right—there is going to be a flood.  God wants him to build an ark.  The animals are going to come and get on board the boat.  After that, though, Noah is subject to some speculation and extrapolation when he can’t really hear a clear answer from God.

Aronofsky is not afraid to make God a real entity; he is not afraid to represent things in the Bible as they seem to be—the angels cast out of heaven, the unbelievably old people like Methusaleh–close to 1000 years old when the film begins.  These are fantasy elements, but Aronofsky plays them straight because believers believe them as fact.

(Full disclosure: As a Christian myself, I tend to believe most of the Bible stories as fact–since all the fantastical elements are explainable through communication and interaction with a god that I don’t fully understand or comprehend. Gods have powers.  They can do whatever they want and it happens…so angels from heaven, eternal people, giant massive floods–I’m okay with that.  It is my belief.)

Some Christians did not appreciate Noah.  At least that’s what I heard.  Over here the Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax does a good run down of comparing Christians who loved the film with those who hated it–and why.

I loved the Christianity Today response especially–thoughtful and positive. Not what I expected, but very happy.

My point: Depicting someone’s sacred scripture is never easy.  When you are given such meagre bits of story that have been idealized, and in some sense, covered up, when the original sounds like a fable or a fairy tale to begin with, where characters are not that well-drawn, you invite interpretation and imagination.  Always a good thing. But a dangerous thing.  Where your imagination filled in Noah’s story with THIS, mine filled it in with THAT.  And as we’ve talked about here before, interpretation differences fuel arguments when it comes to scripture especially.

What does Noah do right, though, as a film of a sacred story?

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Islam and Science Fiction website

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(art by Lekan Jeyifo from his website, Vigilism.  His work, depicting Lagos in 2081AD, is beautiful.  Go over to his site and check it out.)

A wonderful website called Islam and Science Fiction has some great articles about the appearance of Islam in science fiction, some great author bios of Muslim science fiction authors, and links to an anthology, A Mosque Among the Stars among other things.

Written by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad the spare site is thoughtful and engaging.  Mostly his blogged thoughts, his search for Islam in among the science fiction, he also reprints some good blogposts from others–one in particular:

Better Representing Muslims: a Few ideas by Robert Rath (reprinted from the Escapist with permission)–which asks the gaming community, especially, to try some new tropes when representing Muslims in shooter games.

Modern Warfare would probably be a little different were it actually written by a Muslim – or even if the team brought on a cultural expert. The fact is, we really love to talk about consulting military veterans when putting together military shooters, but those guys are rarely cultural experts and they always look at a country from the perspective of an outsider. It could really help to bring someone in who really knows a country, rather than has seen it primarily through a gun sight or a camera lens. Someone who can give the environments and people a greater sense of authenticity or suggest a plotline other than ERMAHGERD NUCLEAR MISSILES GO AMERICA SHOOT EVERYTHING THAT MOVES. Perhaps taking down an underground militant network that’s been targeting Afghan leaders or hunting a particularly talented bomb-maker. Or maybe Nathan Drake’s next adventure will put him on the side of the Jordanian police, tracking down a stolen artifact.

That is, of course, if we’re truly as interested in “realism” as we say we are. I suspect when studio PR reps use that word, what they really mean are “realistic guns.” These days, we spend more energy making a gun true to life than we spend on the person in its crosshairs.

Ahmad, though, has a lot of great blogposts on finding Islam in Science Fiction in many places–like Deviant Art, or io9, or other places on the web.

He also has helped produce the anthology, A Mosque Among the Stars—this link will take you to the Amazon page where you can kindle it.

 

The Seven Deadly Sins of Religion in Science Fiction (from io9)

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Back in 2009, Charlie Jane Anders published a nifty blogpost on io9 in the midst of the BSG finale, last of the LOST episodes, and after the aftermath of Heroes, about how NOT to put religion in your science fiction.  Things she was tired of seeing, but also things she believed you might also be tired of seeing.  The blog post still feels relevant, though you can argue her points.  Certainly it pertains to Tess 18’s theme of faith in science fiction and fantasy–and challenges us to come up with ways to avoid putting faith in science fiction badly.  We’ve mentioned a few of them ourselves here.  But maybe we can post a bigger response.  Try putting one of your “deadly sins” of putting religion in science fiction (or fantasy) in the comments section of our blog here–and let’s see if we can come up with our own version of this list.

 

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The 7 Deadly Sins of Religion in Science Fiction.  

Religion is a huge part of science fiction – and it makes the genre better and more fascinating, as Battlestar Galactica proved. But there are seven mistakes SF should avoid in portraying the spiritual realm.

BSG wouldn’t have been nearly as epic if it hadn’t included spiritual themes from the beginning. The inclusion of religious elements added a way bigger scope and grandeur to the story of humanity’s last remnants struggling to survive – and it was realistic, since you’d expect people to be asking the big theological questions in that situation.

In general, religion and spiritual topics are a huge part of science fiction – if you’re really determined to avoid them altogether, you’re probably stuck with a few golden age novels, and a handful of Lost In Space reruns. But just like other science fiction elements, like first contact, time travel and space battles, science fictional religion can be done well – or it can be cheesy and weird.

Here are seven mistakes science fiction sometimes makes in handling religion (and I freely admit I was influenced to think about this by all the comments on Annalee’s final BSG recap and some of our other posts):

1. The cargo cult. Yes, I know, the gods really must be crazy. But I’m really sick of stories about primitive peoples who discover high technology and start worshipping it. Or the descendants of high-tech people, who have become primitive and started worshipping their ancestors’ technology. Like the Ewoks worshipping C-3PO, or the desert people worshipping the spacesuit in Doctor Who‘s “Planet Of Fire.” There’s usually an undertone of “See? This proves religion is teh stupid.” Also horrible: robots worshipping the people who made them, or aliens worshipping humans. Or aliens worshipping Ferengi.

The 7 Deadly Sins Of Religion In Science FictionEXPAND

2. The cheap Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with having a messianic figure in your science fiction – I’m not trying to take all the fun out of everything here – but don’t just pull the Jesus imagery out of thin air and expect it to mean something. Yes, I’m looking at you, crucified Neo. And I’m looking at you, Jesus H. Baltar. (And even though I love the ending of Doctor Who‘s “Last Of The Time Lords,” I’m also looking at you, floaty cruciform Doctor.) The indispensible TVTropes website has a great list of “random religious symbolism tossed in for no reason” moments.

3. The dumb space gods. Whenever we actually meet a god or gods in science fiction, it’s almost always a letdown. (There are exceptions – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine managed to have our heroes meet the timeless Prophets inside the wormhole, without ever losing their mystique.) Usually, though, when we meet a god or a godlike alien, it’s a cheesy old guy with a funny beard. Or it’s Jodie Foster’s condescending dad.

For the other 4 deadly sins…. seek out this link:  http://io9.com/5185748/the-7-deadly-sins-of-religion-in-science-fiction

Buddhism in Nexus: Wired Religiously, Wired Perfectly

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https://tesseracts18.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/e992a-nexus.jpgFuturist Ramez Naam’s first science fiction novel, Nexus, garnered a review last year that spoke to the Buddhism intertwined into the plot.  The novel ostensibly is about future human enhancement:

A few decades into the future, a drug/biotechnology called Nexus is making its way through the underground. When ingested, it creates a temporary computer network in your brain — which allows you to be “programmed” with anything from emotions to information about what songs are playing at the club where you’re dancing. The government has outlawed Nexus, just as it outlaws any form of “emerging” technology for human enhancement that could be a threat.

But what intrigues the reviewer is the Buddhist aspects.

What I found most interesting about the novel, however, wasn’t the post-human technology or the neurocomputing interfaces. It was Naam’s use of Buddhism as a form of biotechnology. When Kaden gets to Thailand, he discovers that Buddhist leaders and monks have been secretly hacking Nexus themselves — not with computers, but using the power of meditation. Because of their spiritual training, they’ve figured out how to use the technology to rewire their own minds and generate incredible collective meditation experiences. There is actually a scientific basis for this idea, as neuroscientists have discovered that meditation actually does affect the neuroanatomy of people’s brains.

The addition of Buddhism as a kind of socio-scientific force makes Nexus more than your average futuristic techno-thriller. It’s a smart thought experiment about how a single technology might be used by different cultures and political groups in radically different ways. Ultimately, the book is about why no single group — whether national or scientific — should be allowed to control a technology that could ultimately change humanity for the better. We can never predict exactly how a life-altering technology will be used, and erasing it before people have a chance to tinker with it is more destructive than any of the possible ill effects it might generate.

What we here at Tesseracts enjoy is the interplay of religion and science fiction, of course, but also that human brains wired for religion could actually be an asset, and not a drawback to human existence.  That Buddhists might have a leg up on this technology makes me wonder what other religions might have to offer when it comes to future human enhancement.  Buddhists may offer meditative strengths.  In what science fiction future could Pentecostals or Muslims have a future edge in human society?  Pantheists?  Wiccans?

For the original article on the Buddhist aspects of Nexus, follow this link.

Was Arjun of the Mahabharata gay, and would that matter?

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Found this great, thoughtful post on The Hindu’s Scrapbook about the notion that Arjun, a main character of the Mahabharata, might have been gay.  I thought it was appropriate to share on this blog because a) it shows how people of a faith might struggle with concepts that change that faith, b) that the speaker him/herself doesn’t believe that the changing of a character’s sexual identity has any change on the message of the faith itself, and that c) sexual identity within any religion is a touchy subject.  Concepts of Jesus being gay have aroused a lot of negativity, so why not concepts of Arjun being gay as well?  We are jarred by identity issues in deeply held beliefs or histories.

As writers we often find the flashpoints, the struggles within today’s faith, make some of the best places to write from.  While the post below–and it’s only an excerpt–does not touch on science fiction or fantasy, we can still empathize with the writer as s/he regards someone else suggesting a “re-interpretation” that has modern impacts, and modern opportunities for believers, and this struggle, perhaps, with being inclusive.

Science fiction and fantasy is going through its own bout of inclusiveness and gender identity struggles.  More and more characters, thank you, are being introduced that are not necessarily just the binary of male/female, or straight.  In comics, in games, in science fiction and fantasy, characters are becoming more representative of the full spectrum of identity–and as they do, we are uncovering more and more PAST characters, authors, historical figures who may also fall differently on this spectrum.  This may feel jarring, but for those who are finally finding representatives through history, or through literature, it can be so welcoming and encouraging.  To Northstar, Dumbledore, Batwoman, Alexander the Great, Willa Cather, Uncle Walt, James Baldwin, David and Jonathan, the Roman Centurion and his servant, and more and more, I’ll say that a few representatives are enough for me.  I don’t need the world to become gay.  I just need to be able to see them out there in the world.  Thank you for those interpretations which leave things more open and fluid in religion as well. I never want to take away someone’s true identity and give them mine, but thinking about possibilities when the door is already open allows for empathy for those who might not share the identity, and modeling for those who do.

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Homosexuality and Hinduism from A Hindu’s Scrapbook.

I haven’t really talked about many Hindu Concepts on this blog, but I was very upset after hearing this. Now just to be clear, I am a college student, and I just read up on Hinduism on my spare time. I am not an expert by any means, but that does not mean I am not knowlegable.

So yesterday, my boyfriend was telling me about a guest speaker he heard at HSC (Hindu Student Council) camp. He mentioned that the speaker talked about some people interpreting some characters in the Mahabharata as gay. He then told me that many people at the camp thought that it was very disrespectful that this idea was even being thought of and talked about. I could not find the thesis online (although I am sure it available somewhere, if someone can direct m I would love to read it), I have a feeling the character whose sexuality is in question is Arjun. (My boyfriend could not recall the name of the character.)

I just sat there and wondered, why? Why would this interpretation be disrespectful?

Again, I could not find the thesis, but being an academic thesis I would assume this person did extensive research (I am told psychoanalysis and reading in-between the lines…). I am also assuming that they do not say that Arjun (or who ever this character is) did not complete all the actions mentioned in the Mahabharata. So the question is, do these people find it disrespectful just because this person (as well as others) believes he was homosexual?

Now this is the part where I get confused. How is a homosexual character disrespectful? Even though there are many different sects in Hinduism, the one uniting principle, I thought, was Dharma. Duty. There are many different duties a person may have, one to him or herself, to their family, society, etc. Some of these duties are more important than others. Did Arjun not complete his duties in the Mahabharata to his best ability? Does a homosexual man or women not complete their duties? They have jobs and families. It is not like their homosexuality gets in the way of that….

For the rest of the post, please follow this link. 

 

For a discussion of Arjun/Arjuna as the first Transgendered Warrior, follow this link.

Bajorans and the Evolving Trek View of Faith

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Kai WinnI have to admire Star Trek for the way they evolved on matters of faith, by showing the complexity and the cultural aspects of faith, and how religion impacted society, at least in one series.

Star Trek hasn’t always been like this. Faith and Religion seem to be the target of early Gene Roddenberry design. In TOS and STNG, faith and spirituality were often shown to be merely a way to manipulate the masses (hello, Karl Marx). Both Kirk and Picard showed the natives that their gods were machines (“The Return of the Archons”) and (“The World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”), usually, or fickle higher powers prone to jealousy (“Who Mourns for Adonis”, and “The Apple” come to mind from TOS), or merely keeping people young and stupid for the whim of the gods (STNG “Who Watches the Watchers?” ) or (VOY: “The Caretaker”). Worse was when a believer realized that his/her faith was empty (VOY: “This Mortal Coil”, or VOY: “Emanations”).

In STNG, Q also represented the gods at their most amoral and irresponsible. A whole slew of gods that were bored but fascinated with humans (HUMANS are the object of everyone’s curiosity… what, no god wanted to explore Betazoid culture? ) What a scary concept for a higher power.

But Deep Space Nine seemed to want to explore religion and faith a bit more deeply. True, the requisite aliens were present in the Wormhole next to Bajor, but Roddenberry wasn’t beyond saying that gods could be higher forms of life that we don’t understand. Certainly I agree.  My concept of God is that he is a much higher form of life—which would be classified as an “alien”, yes, but still God. But unlike Q, the gods of Bajor, the Prophets, care for the people of Bajor. They are higher life inside the wormhole and emotionally attached to a humanoid species.

Bajorans themselves are almost all religious, having to deal with the reality of gods who live in the wormhole. The gods intervene in history; they send little Orbs that light up and give you prophecies, and Bajoran faith has completely mixed with politics in a way that is eerily similar and yet very different than American culture today. The US may not have preachers as politicians, but they have politicians who think they are preachers, and who create laws as if God himself were speaking to them. At least Bajor is up front: it’s the Pope in charge of the world, thank you very much.

I can give DS9 a lot of stones for making this faith and religion complex.

What I think is useful for our purposes here at Tess 18: Wrestling with Gods are the following ideas, I humbly submit to you for your thoughts:

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Jefferson’s Creative Approach to the Bible: Crafting His Own Sacred Text

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Thomas Jefferson, considered one of the major “Founding Fathers” of the United States of America, created for himself a Bible, cut and pasted from the scriptures of his own Bible.  He threw out what he considered repetition and hearsay–and stuck with just the moral teachings of Jesus Christ.  He worked on this in private mostly, in his seventies.  It’s a remarkable artifact of literature, a composed text created from another text.  A personally sacred text crafted from a publicly sacred text.

This little video was created by the University of Virginia and features the Smithsonian.

 

Not every believer takes everything their sacred texts or churches tell them—and visually Jefferson captured what metaphorically many believers craft–their own version of their faith.  They cut and paste what’s important.

Can you think of a character who might be more eclectic in their approach to their faith, taking what they find important and extricating it from the stuff they find unimportant?  Not every representation of Faith has to be an all or nothing approach—a perfect Buddhist, a perfect Christian.  In reality, believers are all seekers, crafters, negotiators.