fiction.” Many felt that these sensational adventure stories had little, if any, literary merit.
Science fiction began to be taken more seriously after World War II. The dramatic role science played in that war gave science new prestige. The predictions of science-fiction writers began to seem more credible. So science-fiction comics, magazines, and paperbacks began to proliferate. Hardbound science-fiction books climbed the best-seller lists. But as science fiction struggles to meet the demands of the mass market, literary quality—and scientific accuracy—is often sacrificed. Science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein laments that “anything readable and even moderately entertaining” is now published, including “a great many poor speculative novels.” Writer Ursula K. Le Guin adds that even “second-rate stuff” gets printed.
In spite of such criticism, science fiction has reached new heights of popularity, having received a significant boost, not by scientists, but by the motion picture industry.
Science Fiction Hits the “Big Screen”
Science-fiction films have been around since 1902 when Georges Méliès made the film A Trip to the Moon. A later generation of young moviegoers was mesmerized by Flash Gordon. But in 1968, one year before man landed on the moon, the film 2001: A Space Odyssey received artistic recognition and was a commercial success as well. Hollywood now began allotting huge budgets for science-fiction films.
By the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, such films as Alien, Star Wars, Blade Runner, and ET: The Extraterrestrial accounted for half of all U.S. box-office receipts. Indeed, science fiction provided one of the biggest hit movies of all time, Jurassic Park. Along with the film came an avalanche of some 1,000 Jurassic Park products. Not surprisingly, TV also jumped on the bandwagon. The popular show Star Trek spawned a number of programs about outer space.
Many feel, though, that by catering to popular demands, some science-fiction writers have compromised the qualities that gave science fiction a measure of value. German author Karl Michael Armer claims that ‘science fiction is now simply a popular trademark defined no longer by content but by marketing techniques.’ Others lament that the real “stars” of today’s science-fiction films are, not persons, but special effects. One critic even says that science fiction is “abominable and abysmal in so many of its manifestations.”
For example, many so-called science-fiction films are not really about science or the future at all. Futuristic settings are sometimes used merely as a backdrop for graphic violence. Writer Norman Spinrad observes that in many of today’s science-fiction stories, someone gets “shot, stabbed, vaporized, lased, clawed, devoured, or blasted.” In many films this mayhem is portrayed in horrifying detail!
Another area of concern is the supernatural element that is featured in a number of science-fantasy books and films. While some people may see such stories as nothing more than allegorical battles between good and evil, some of these works seem to go beyond allegory and promote spiritistic practices.
The Need for Balance
Of course, the Bible does not condemn imaginative entertainment as such. In Jotham’s parable of the trees, inanimate plants are pictured as talking to one another—even spinning plots and schemes. (Judges 9:7-15) The prophet Isaiah likewise used an imaginative device when he portrayed long-dead national rulers as carrying on a conversation in the grave. (Isaiah 14:9-11) Even some of Jesus’ parables contained elements that could not happen literally. (Luke 16:23-31) Such imaginative devices served not merely to entertain but to instruct and teach.
Some writers today may legitimately use a futuristic setting in order to instruct or entertain. Readers who are conscientious Christians keep in mind, though, that the Bible exhorts us to focus attention on things that are pure and wholesome. (Philippians 4:8) It also reminds us: “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) Some science-fiction films and books serve as a platform for ideas and philosophies that are irreconcilable with the Bible, such as evolution, human immortality, and reincarnation. The Bible warns us not to become prey to “philosophy and empty deception.” (Colossians 2:8) So caution is in order when it comes to science fiction, as it is with all forms of entertainment. We should be selective about what we read or view.—Ephesians 5:10.
As mentioned earlier, many popular films are violent. Would our consuming a diet of gratuitous bloodshed be pleasing to Jehovah, of whom it is said: “Anyone loving violence His soul certainly hates”? (Psalm 11:5) And since spiritism is condemned in Scripture, Christians would want to exercise good judgment when it comes to books or films that feature such elements as magic or sorcery. (Deuteronomy 18:10) Realize too that whereas an adult may separate fantasy from reality with little difficulty, not all children can. Again, parents will therefore want to be observant as to how their children are affected by what they read and see.*
Some may decide that they prefer other forms of reading and entertainment. But there is no need for such ones to be judgmental of others in this regard or to make issues over matters of personal choice.—Romans 14:4.
On the other hand, Christians who choose to enjoy various forms of fiction as an occasional diversion do well to remember Solomon’s warning: “To the making of many books there is no end, and much devotion to them is wearisome to the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) Many in today’s world have clearly gone overboard in their devotion to science-fiction books and movies. Science-fiction clubs and conventions have proliferated. According to Time magazine, Star Trek fans on five continents have devoted themselves to learning the fictitious language Klingon, which was featured in Star Trek TV shows and movies. Such extreme behavior does not harmonize with the Bible’s counsel at 1 Peter 1:13: “Keep your senses completely [“keep balanced,” footnote].”
Even at its best, science fiction cannot satisfy man’s curiosity about what the future holds. Those who really want to know the future must turn to a source that is certain. We will discuss this in our next article.
What the Future Really Holds
MANY science-fiction enthusiasts have an inquiring mind, a desire for change in human society, and a great interest in the future. The Bible has much to say about the future, but the Bible’s view of man’s fate bears little, if any, resemblance to the speculations of science-fiction writers.
Science fiction offers many, many different versions of what the future may be like. But would you stake your life on any one of these? On what would you base your choice? These scenarios, or projected courses of events, cannot all be true. In fact, since all of them involve conjecture—fiction—can you confidently say that even one of them is the truth? It is far more likely that none of them are.
Coming to Nothing
Already, many science-fiction scenarios are coming to nothing. In what way? In that those that deal with how science could lead the way to a better civilization here on earth have not come to pass. Far from an improved civilization, the reality of today is the opposite. German writer Karl Michael Armer notes: “The future has overwhelmed us.” He points to “global threats of atomic death, environmental disasters, hunger, poverty, energy crises, [and] state-sponsored terrorism.”
In other words, the future for the earth and for the human family described in many science-fiction stories is not moving toward realization. To the contrary, as conditions deteriorate on the earth, the human situation is going in the opposite direction. In spite of any scientific or technical advancements, throughout the world human society experiences more and more crime, violence, poverty, ethnic hatreds, and family breakdown.
Some scientific endeavors have added greatly to man’s ills. Consider just a few examples: the chemical pollution of our air, water, and food; the disaster at Bhopal in India, where an accident in an industrial plant released poison gas, causing the death of 2,000 people and injury to some 200,000; the meltdown of the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in Ukraine, resulting in many deaths and increases in cancer and other health problems over a wide area.
Colonizing Outer Space?
A large number of science-fiction stories about the future offer escape from life’s miseries