I made what I did for my PhD into a book. It’s called “The Nowhere Bible” and it is available now from De Gruyter.
I called it that because it is about utopia – the no-place-good-place – and about science fiction, too – the always-not-quite-there.
The implicit question underlying the whole experiment is: what if the Bible were utopia or science fiction? What if we naturally assumed utopian theory or science fiction theory were the appropriate approach to it, because the worlds it imagines are not found in reality? What would happen to the text, to texts-about-the-text, and to biblical scholarship? In the end, the book is to some extent about the Bible (or rather the biblical passage I use as a case study), but it is mainly about hermeneutics and the different kinds of wishful thinking with which the Bible is often approached.
“Allegiant” (3rd part of the “Divergent” series) has a world-opening problem. The first part read almost allegorical and the world seemed fairly tight. The second part is usually where I start to lose interest in trilogies – same again here. My losing interest often also correlates with when the fighting action becomes prevalent. The story stops being about a world and begins being about shooting, and I often lose track of who is loyal to whom and why.
I have read reviews of the film version of “Divergent” that mentioned a certain anti-intellectualism of the series. Blatant, maybe, if you consider that the “intellectuals” in this world turn out to be the baddies (I have not yet finished the third part; maybe there is a plot twist coming up that rehabilitates them, but I’m not counting on it). I could still sort of bear it in volumes one and two, maybe because they felt so allegorical. “Allegiant”, though, is turning all out Fox News on me. Statements that read a lot like the polemical “You know, those scientists with all their geneticky stuff that they keep from us normal people, trying to tell me stuff about me… ugh! Jesus is the only one who knows me.”
Once the closed narrated world of volumes one and two opens up into a wider world the protagonists had been unaware of, plot holes and also technical narrative holes begin to show up more. Especially blatant is the avoidance of science when in this new, wider world the “novum” (Suvin), i.e., the cataclysmic change that has made the world as it is, has to do with genes and genetic “purity”. In the narrower world from the beginning, it seemed acceptable to have some pseudo-science and science fiction (truth serums, fear simulations, collective hallucinations) and it could have just stood as a given in that world, but once the characters encounter the wider world and scientists within it, I would expect the scientific event that has created both the wider and the narrower narrated worlds to be explained more in terms of hard science fiction than in the voice of Fox News anti-intellectualism: “You wouldn’t get it. Those scientisty types– they don’t want you to get it!”
Again, have not yet finished reading, the novel has another 150 pages or so to redeem itself.
An intriguing topic is invented history and science fiction literature is a great place to turn to for beautiful (sometimes hilarious, sometimes haunting) elaborations on reason for, and consequences or realities of invented history. The opening of Lem’s “Memoirs Found in a Bathtub” is a great satirical example.
I am currently reading “Allegiant”, third part of the “Divergent” trilogy by Veronica Roth. I had not read anything about the series before reading the series, and I had asked everyone not to spoil it (kudos to the audience at the YA Dystopia panel at LonCon for protesting loudly when one panelist seemed about to reveal the reveal). Not yet halfway through “Allegiant”, I am noticing that the “In a World…”-style teasers for this series were misleading. “In a City…” – would have been more correct, because the “world” set up in the first two volumes, well — spoiler — is not the “world”. (“Maze Runner” clears this up at the end of the first book, so readers haven’t spent as much time being in that world before realizing it is not a world, just a place; also, all the characters do not really have any personal “history” at their disposal as they are experiencing amnesia.) I am torn between having only liked the series ish, and being really interested in invented history. Because I didn’t see the reveal coming – tbh I really didn’t put that much thought-energy into this series to predict any plot twists – I didn’t pay much attention to how “history” is described in the first two volumes. I could/should go back. I remember there being something called “Faction History”, which the kids in that “world” (or, well, “city”) are taught at school. Maybe I am interested enough in this to go back to book one and re-read especially with regard to how history and history-teaching in particular are described there.
The call for papers is now open for the panel Science Fiction and the Bible, which will meet at the European Association of Biblical Studies (EABS)’ Annual Meeting 2015 (Cordoba, Spain, July 12-15th, 2015).
More information can be found here.
As always, there is an open session, inviting papers on all relevant themes to do with Science Fiction in all its guises and the Bible and/or ancient literatures more widely. This year there will be a themed session about destruction and forgetting (and/or re-construction and remembering). If you are interested in SF but have not yet worked in the areas of Bible or religious literature, we would very much like to hear from you. The conference itself might be worthwhile for you, too, as there will be a cross-over panel on visualisation of sacred spaces and artefacts in Science Fiction films, which is organised jointly with colleagues of the Archaeology of the Levant group at the EABS. Furthermore, there is a workshop on Fan Fiction and Scribal Culture(s), which is inviting contributions. Colleagues from the Biblical World and Its Reception group invite papers on spatial theory, and there are workshops titled Images of Creation and Bodies of Communication. There are very interesting intersections to be explored between these panels. All in all, it’s almost like a small SF convention inside a Biblical Studies conference.
“Faith and science, I have learned, are two sides of the same coin, separated by an expanse so small, but wide enough that one side can’t see the other.” (from Mary E. Pearson. The Adoration of Jenna Fox, part one of The Jenna Fox Chronicles)
In the story, set in an unspecified near-future, teenager Jenna Fox finds out that her parents have replaced 90% of her body with sophisticated biotech in order to save her life after an accident. Jenna doesn’t find this out until about 40% into my Kindle edition of the book. In the world of the book, it is illegal to replace such a high percentage of a human body.
I found it interesting that religion, especially a religious site, plays a small but distinctive part in this narrative, which is a classic coming-of-age story:
Jenna’s grandmother Lily, who opposed Jenna’s parents’ decision to save her life by making her into a non-consenting cyborg, is a practicing Catholic and takes Jenna with her to a Catholic monastery. Jenna, experiencing amnesia, is still unaware of her new cyborg identity when she visits the church for the first time. Christ, though, she seems to remember – almost like something eternally present – but the solemn atmosphere of the church does not evoke any feelings at her first visit, or so she reports (it is a first person narrative).
Then, though, her presence in the church evokes a sudden memory of her own baptism at two weeks old: one of her first suspicions that something oddly different is happening to her brain. She feels like she is not supposed to remember events from such early childhood.
Still unaware of her cyborg body, she sees her soon-to-be boyfriend Ethan at the Mission for the first time.
To me, the locale of the Mission in the book appeared as a sort of static place. Almost a blank space, where references to the past are made, references to traditions, Saints, cemeteries. The old Mission is dedicated to nurturing plants with unadulterated DNA: yet another way the locale is characterised as a sanctuary, as something restorative, since the disaster that catapults this book into the “slightly postapocalytpic” sub genre is attributed in part to genetic engineering.
After Jenna learns about her new cyborg body, she confesses this (and her “illegality) to Ethan in the Mission.
At her final visit there, she feels, well, something: “Souls, if there is such a thing, are nourished and mended here.” And, indeed, at the end of the book, her skeptic grandmother Lily – who for most of the book has treated New Jenna as a “thing”, entirely different from old organic Jenna – baptises Jenna, so that the strange memory of her baptism at two weeks old arches all the way to the end of the book to her second baptism, as cyborg Jenna, with her grandmother finally acknowledging that there must be a soul that transcends the body.
In his essay “Parables for the Postmodern, Post-9/11, and Posthuman World: Carrie Ryan’s Forest of Hands and Teeth Books, M.T. Anderson’s Feed, and Mary E. Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox” (published in Contemporary Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults: Brave New Teenagers (Basu, Broad, Hintz, eds.), London/NY: Routledge, 2013, pp. 189-202) Thomas J. Morrissey writes, interestingly and accurately, that YA dystopias encourage a posthuman perspective: “At this point in our history we are figurative cyborgs whether or not we know it or accept it” (Morrissey, 191). I quite agree with this statement and would therefore read Jenna Fox as essentially arguing that the very human trait of religion is passed on to what humans create.
Jenna says, “The world has changed. So have I.” So has religion.
By way of footnote: I highly recommend Basu, Broad, and Hintz’s edited volume mentioned above. Do read!