Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Becoming More

I’ve said before that I don’t generally think of science fiction as a genre that’s about religion. In fact, when Dave Wolverton said at one time that he thought of fantasy as modern religious writing, while science fiction was entirely secular, I eventually agreed with him. Science fiction, no matter what guise it takes, seemed to me to be essentially about people for better or worse taking charge of their fate.

I came across Douglas E. Cowan’s book Sacred Space while I was browsing through my local public library for something interesting to read. The title reminded me of McKee’s The Gospel According to Science Fiction, and reading a couple of pages into the book made me think that Cowan’s book would explore that topic, as well, albeit a bit more rigorously. I was pleasantly surprised when I found that Sacred Space is about something else, entirely.

Where McKee essentially draws parallels between various science fiction films and TV series and mostly Western religious ideas, Cowan explores "The Quest for Transcendence in Science Fiction Film and Television."

Transcendence, according to Cowan, is any state of being that is beyond what we currently are. He describes states of both physical as well as spiritual transcendence, and suggests that we can gain insight into this aspect of human experience by looking at how science fiction film and television have treated our striving for becoming something better.

Cowan covers a lot of material. There are over a hundred films and television episodes referenced in his book’s filmography. But where McKee merely looks for points of correspondence, Cowan refers to a broader schema for his ideas. In fact, Cowan derides McKee and others like McKee who manage to merely “baptize the text” in the service of their own particular belief systems.

I found the result to be entertaining and insightful. In the book’s nine chapters Cowan explores the subject of transcendence and illustrates the treatment of different kinds of transcendence by referring to science fiction ranging from Star Trek to Babylon 5 to Battlestar Galactica. I not only learned new ways of looking at this material, but I’m thinking perhaps it’s time to buy the BSG boxed set and finally watch that series.


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