Some while back, author Sarah Hoyt offered to do a blog tour in support of her upcoming book Darkship Renegades. I should say, in support of her then upcoming book Darkship Renegages, because said book came out some while back while our Sarah was afflicted with the ‘flu. She asked me for a topic, and I proposed “science fiction and religion”. Here’s the post she was kind enough to send me. Meantime, I liked Darkship Renegades, the sequel to Darkship Thieves; see my review of Darkship Thieves, and if it sounds appealing go get ‘em both.
And with that, here are Sarah’s comments on science fiction and religion, with special reference to Darkship Renegades and also to A Few Good Men, a related book.
Belief In The Future
by Sarah A. Hoyt
Science fiction and religion don’t work well together. Our fore-writers seemed to hold on to the quaint notion that in a sufficiently advanced future there would be no religion. That notion was, I grant you, pleasing at least at the time, but religion and humans don’t seem to interact that way. There is no such thing as a knowledge of science vast enough that it banishes the ache of being human which religion addresses. Those who think they are free of religion are merely transferring their fervor to something else – religious, ethical – sometimes ironically the very denial of religious feeling.
And although this is by no means always true, most of the time religion is brought into science fiction it is in opposition to science, or as the foe to be conquered.
This is also not always true or a given. To some extent, early science progressed hand in hand with religion. All religions might go through an anti-science phase, or be anti-science in certain regions or times, but the same curiosity about something bigger than ourselves, in the end, extends to both religion and science.
Only, of course, religion is not logical. It is not logical because it’s not meant to be, because the questions it answers (and gets out of the way) are those that typically have no answer, like “What is the purpose of life” and “what is the sound of one hand clapping.” (Okay, the last one is not, that I know, part of any religion, but it IS the type of imponderable religion addresses.)
The problem, then, with most religion – even the most respectful – brought into a science fiction world and created by a science fiction writer is that the writer usually tries to make it logical.
Look, we can’t help it. We try to make our magic logical, we try to make our history logical, and perforce, if it’s going into a book, the religion we just created gets kicked, shoved, and made – by gum! – logical. Which means unless it’s not a real religion, but something, say, dictated by a computer, or aliens, it won’t impress any religious reader as a true religion.
I had a strong advantage in this, because frankly I don’t write in a logical fashion. No, please, don’t assume this means my world building makes no sense, or that thought doesn’t go into it. I mean that after I do all that planning work in advance, I’ve found it’s more productive to let my subconscious drop its bombs in. I’ve found that often, when I don’t know what I’m doing my subconscious does.
I have, in other circumstances, referred to this as plotting by fits of brilliance. Oftentimes those fits of brilliance end up having to be written out in the final draft. Sometimes they get left in to pad the world. And sometimes, years later, while I’m Standing On the Corner, Minding My Own Business, a forgotten bit of brilliance will explode into a full story.
To an extent that was the case with the Usaian religion in the Darkship world. I hadn’t planned on having religions. Or rather, they’re mentioned, but my main character, Athena Hera Sinistra was not, for logical reasons when you read the book, brought up religious. In fact, she makes a fine muddle of all religions in her mind.
So, there it was, in the outline of the first book, Darkship Thieves, a little scene where Athena sells a gold ring to a pawn shop. My intention was to have this be the moment when she realizes there are practical as well as ethical advantages to not conning and lying your way through life.
I wanted the shop keeper to radiate integrity, even though he deals in “shady” and his entire community is probably illegal. So it occurred to me to make him a member of a proscribed religion. Because I didn’t want to offend any existing religions, and because (though Communism is a religion in that world) I didn’t want him to be a Communist because, well… he’s a merchant and clearly a good one, so I blithely made him a Usaian. (The name coming from the fact someone had just used it, derogatorily at me.) I had great fun having Athena think the eagle is a war god, and such. Fine. A piece of whimsy. Right.
My subconscious had other plans.
I had for some time planned to write a revolution in that world. Or rather, I wanted to write several revolutions, one of them being modeled after the US. Only… Well, I believe in the constitution because while I think our system of government is horrible, it’s the best the world has come up with, as far as I can tell.
However, in a far future, when history has been distorted and vast portions of it erased, why should anyone fight for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?
And there, in my mind in both Darkship Renegades and A Few Good Men were the Usaians, who carried those principles through the ages as received wisdom and with them the certainty that G-d intends them to rebuild the republic.
We get the religion through the eyes of someone who is being converted to it. (There will be more in twenty five years, the last book – not twenty five of my years, I hope – through the eyes of someone raised in it.) So what we hear is what his mentors believe, which might not be an accurate depiction of the faith, as such.
What we do get is gloriously contradictory. While the character is assured he doesn’t even have to believe in the afterlife, later in the story there is a family ceremony to consign someone who’s died to being born again in a free land (not clear if it’s reincarnation or another world.)
Of course, every religion has the official theology, and a “low church” of superstitions and ways of doing things that have accrued as folk religion, sometimes borrowed from other, older faiths.
It is the little contradictions that makes the religion feel real.
But there is something else – through their imperfections and struggles, it is the religion that gives the characters the sense of duty and the sense of belonging to something greater than themselves.
This made up religion, born of a moment’s whimsy, gives my characters’ dignity and strength that even I can’t mock. It makes them decent, even when they don’t want to be. It lifts them above themselves.
I’m not about to convert – I already have a religion – but their religiously-formed family life and their ordered existence even in the middle of chaos, revolution and war, made me feel a kindred with them.
And in that too, their religion feels real.
Whether it feels real for others, I don’t know. But to the author, it felt authentic.