To judge books and movies by their covers, a great deal of current science fiction seems to rest on two stable pillars—boobs and blasters. This is cheap fodder for the gut, but it often lacks what science fiction is best suited to provide—that, is stimulating food for the mind.
One of the easiest ways to make this point is to compare Isaac Asimov’s I Robot with the movie of the same name. The book is a series of challenging intellectual puzzles based on Asimov’s famous “three laws of robotics.” The movie has more in common with Rambo or Terminator than it does with anything Asimov ever wrote.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a good action movie. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a classic that is hard to surpass. (Certainly, its sequels are not its equals.) But all action movies typically offer is a temporary escape from the ordinary business of living. There is nothing wrong with that from time to time, as long as we don’t start living for the next escape.
The better science fiction, however, raises the life’s big questions: What does it mean to be human? Are there other intelligent beings in the universe, and what forms might they take? How might human beings behave if placed in an alien environment? Can we change the present by visiting the past? Where are we headed, both as individuals and as a species?
Consider briefly science fiction’s concern for the future. The suggested scenarios vary widely, of course. Will evolution take a negative turn leading to The Planet of the Apes? Will we be dominated by a super-computer that becomes a virtual deity? Will aliens be our friends or our nemesis?
Asimov’s most enduring vision pictures a galactic civilization that is threatened by chaos. His Foundation Trilogy, its sequels and its prequel suggest that the distant future will be guided through the chaos by the force of mind rather than by technology. In these books, he brilliantly unifies his early I Robot with a later series of robot mysteries solved by the detective Lij Bailey.
From a Christian perspective, the important thing about good science fiction is not the specific future it envisions but the fact that it asks us to look ahead. The current furor over global warming and an increasing concern about a devastating collision with a huge chunk of space rock may have a similar effect.
Without something to draw our attention to the future, we easily develop a constricted view of life. We get up, eat breakfast, go to our jobs, fuss at our co-workers, go home, have supper, numb our minds with an hour or two of television, drop into bed and get up the next day to do it all over again.
If science fiction (or even fictional science, which one side or the other of the global warming debate must be) causes us to think about the future, it has done us a service. Certainly, most people think about the future in these ways without ever giving heed to the Bible’s infallible prediction of what is to come. But no one who is oblivious to the future can be saved. One of the essential doctrines of the New Testament is that Jesus, who died, came to life again and will return to judge the living and the dead.
Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31).
For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).
Though this future alone is true, other imagined futures do not thereby become irrelevant. Just as the pagan myths of a dying, rising god found their ultimate fulfillment in Christ, so the hopes and fears embodied in the most provocative science fiction find their fulfillment in the twin destines of all human beings. Heaven is more exciting than the best of our dreams; hell is more dreadful than the worst of them.