Science Fiction and the Abolition of Man [Review]

August 31, 2017 — Leave a comment

 

The Lenses of Other Worlds
 
A review of

Science Fiction and the Abolition of Man: Finding C. S. Lewis in Sci-Fi Film and Television
Mark Boone, Kevin Neece, Eds.

Paperback: Pickwick Publications, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ] [  Kindle ]

 
Reviewed by Sam Edgin

 

My homework was simply unable to win out against worn copies of The Fellowship of the Ring, Brave New World and Perelandra that I kept beside my desk as a kid. I read them on my lap in secret, with my hand clutching a forgotten pencil that absently scrawled black across my textbook. There are times when I feel my memories have been written by Lewis and Tolkien, I spent so much time in their worlds. I didn’t expect the affect those worlds would have.

Science Fiction and the Abolition of Man (Editors, Mark J. Boone and Kevin C Neece) collects 21 essays that consider C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man through the lens of popular science fiction. While the cover claims to lean on “Sci-Fi Film and Television,” literature is featured liberally as the genesis of many of the movies. The essays are arranged into three sections that mirror the sections in Lewis’ Abolition: “The Men Without Chests,” “The Way,” and “The Abolition of Man”.

While the essays function primarily to find examples of Lewis’s philosophy in Science Fiction, the very best of them serve as exercises to flesh out the meaning found in the stories by the authors consuming them. Mirroring a trademark of science fiction fan communities, the supposed respectability of any content has no bearing on whether worth or enjoyment can be gained from it. “Green Lantern: The Animated Series” is the subject of one essay by Scott Schiffer. He uses the representation of the color spectrum in show to move towards a more emotionally healthy and moral life. Others use the sci-fi classic, Blade Runner, most notably one by Mark D. Sadler exploring the presence of the moral compass in humans and replicants. Star Trek is the focus of several essays; One by Lewis Pearson argues that the Vulcan race, viewed through Lewis, is morally handicapped by their overreliance on logic, a condition that causes them to often make immoral choices. Cult classic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the subject of one of the final essays. In it Nathan Gilmour suggests that the mundanity in which the movie depicts the wiping of memories and relationships – he calls it “human nature” – obscures the horror of the godlike powers Howard Mierzwiak and Lacuna Inc. control.

In The Abolition of Man Lewis argues that humankind is losing itself to technology. Without an objective morality, which Lewis calls the Tao, he thinks humanity is at risks that which makes it human in the first place. It becomes a race of “men without chests”, at the whims of desire and the expectations of society without any   Without a path back to that Tao, humanity is at risk of losing itself entirely.  Analogues for these ideas abound in science fiction. In fact, they seem to be a fertile ground that much of science fiction has sprouted from.

The backbone of much of the science fiction we love are the questions Lewis asked: What do we do when technology gives us such powers that we are no longer able to identify that which is human? Or, even worse, at what point do we begin actively denying humanity around us for our own comfort or gain?

These fantastic stories have cemented themselves within the public consciousness because we can see ourselves slipping away as technology roars up around us. The dissemination of ideas, opinions and experiences has enriched our lives, but it also has debased our search for meaning. Those who control the technological narrative begin to wrest truth away from nature, from reason, and from God. Our favorite dystopian classics give us hope that truth will rise from this; but they also terrify us because we see how close these Secondary Worlds are to our reality.

Janelle L. Aijian, in her essay “The Abolition of Risk” suggests that popular science fiction like The Island, The Matrix, and Gattaca diverge from Lewis in depicting a basically good human nature as the answer to technological conditioning (238). Lewis, and by extension most of the authors in Science Fiction and the Abolition of Man, think that it is not merely human nature, but instead a wholesale commitment to the Tao – objective morality based on intrinsic care for all life, but especially individual human lives – that will pull us back from drowning in the constant march of the technology we created. The answer to our dystopian future is each other and the memories we create.

In his first novel, Wolf in White Van, John Darnielle describes memories as being like layered, transparent veils through which we see the past. Darnielle is apt in the art of truth-telling, and I’ve spent time in my adult life mulling over the thousands of pages of science fiction and fantasy that have shaped my worldview. Fiction, and I think especially fantastical fiction, has a unique way of absorbing the reader and creating memories that dance over the line between truth and make-believe. J.R.R. Tolkien puts it this way in On Fairy Stories: “To experience directly a Secondary World: the potion is too strong, and you give to it Primary Belief, however marvelous the events,” (The Tolkien Reader, “On Fairy Stories”, 72). I found myself in these “Secondary Worlds” constantly. I still do. It wasn’t until later that I realized they became the layered glasses that depict my worldview.

In one of the many spectacular moments of Huxley’s Brave New World, John is sitting with Mustapha Mond in the latter’s office. In frustration with the principles of the society he has been forced into he cries, “But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” Those words have haunted me since I first added Brave New World to my lens of memories. May we all be like John in that moment – willing to put our comfort and happiness at risk in order to highlight the beauty in those around us. Perhaps the more science fiction we read and watch, the more capable we will be of doing just that.