Jesus in Science Fiction

I started teaching a course that looks at the character of Jesus when he shows up in SJombsfcience Fiction.  Currently the course is only 6 weeks long and only taught at the UDLLI, the University of Dayton’s Lifelong Learning Centre for Senior Adults.  We are using the following short stories and novels in the course, and I will be placing the blogposts of the course over on Wrestling With Gods website because it’s become a great place to talk about religion and faith as it appears in science fiction and fantasy.

What happens to Biblical Jesus when the narrative is continued into the future?  Is it subverted?  Are writers appropriating Christianity to rewrite it and rob the narrative of its miracle, or do they instead seek to expand the notion of Jesus to its infinite possibility?  How does Jesus fare in science fiction and what can we learn about faith when science fiction writers write about him?  We look first at the life of Jesus in the Gospels to ground us in the ur-text, try to gather the importance of him as a character and iconic figure in history, culture and religion.  How is Jesus relevant in the future?  Then we look at how authors extrapolate the future of faith, or seek to tweak history, just a bit, to get the savior they want, and perhaps we can better see what kind of culture we are in the face of our chosen Saviour.

Come follow along over on the Wrestling with Gods site.  Already the class has been exciting as these students know a lot about religion, specifically Judaism and Christianity (UD is a Catholic institution) and many retired professors attend these classes for fun (they also can be quite mischievous).

The works we’re going to explore, and I will detail in blogposts are these:

To get us oriented on Jesus the character in the Bible:

Jesus: the Face of God    Jay Parini

“The Man”     Ray Bradbury from The Illustrated Man

“Mecha-Jesus”     Derwin Mak from Wrestling With Gods

“So Loved”           Matt Hughes from Wrestling With Gods

“The Rescuer”      Arthur Porges

“The Traveler”          Richard Matheson

“The Real Thing”       Carolyn Ives Gilman

 “Let’s Go to Golgotha!”      Garry Kilworth

“The Gospel According to Gamaliel Crucis”   Michael Bishop (a longer work I may not use)

“Jesus Christ in Texas” W.E.B Dubois  (which isn’t exactly Science Fiction, but may prove useful in this study)

Then two novels:

Behold the Man, Michael Moorcock, 

Jesus on Mars   Philip Jose Farmer

 If we have time, “Farewell to the Master,” Harry Bates—Which becomes The Day the Earth Stood Still.  This would be delightful to show to students in a longer class.  To read the short story and then watch both films.  

I can also see adding these works to the syllabus for a longer class:

The Man Who Died         DH Lawrence

Jesus Christ, Animator   Ken MacLeod

All Star Superman       Grant Morrison

Jesus Christs                AJ Langguth

Only Begotten Daughter     James Morrow

If you have suggestions on stories, poems, or novels to add to this list, let me know. Specifically we are NOT covering characters who merely have a “savior-esque” quality to them, or those that have a martyr motif.  I want to look at places where characters are for all intents and purposes supposed to BE Jesus.




How to talk about Plot Shapes, or Don’t tell Creative writers they aren’t creative

Well, you live and learn as a teacher. One thing I will never do again: give my high school writing students a handout on plot shapes. My goal was to tell them that if they needed to have some help in shaping a plot, that they could look to these “shapes” —forms that would give them patterns that might help them complete a plot.

Of course, I prefaced this with saying that some people believed there “are only 20 plots” and that everything boils down to these forms in some way or another.

Wake Up Call: These are teenagers. Do they want to be told that there are only 20 plots!?? NO. Do they set about trying to prove you wrong? Yes. And that’s fine. It was their ire at being told they could only have 20 choices that saved them.

At first, they looked pretty crestfallen–how could I stand there and tell them “there’s nothing new under the sun”?

I had a math and science teacher who told me that once. I hated that. I hated that he might be right. You hear it in church sometimes–I think it’s in Ecclesiastes somewhere–that there is nothing new under the sun–but we are creative people. CREATIVE writers. We do create something new. What I am writing now has never, never been written before.

I think books like 20 Master Plots are good for a person who’s ready to read about how to master certain forms in the same way that people who sing learn the 20 or so songs in one book together—to work their muscles. Or the way that autoshop kids learn to rebuild a few classic cars–at least ONE Mustang!  But the book is not for everyone.  I find it helpful —when I know which shape I’m writing— to know what reader expectations are for that shape.  But it can be diminishing…

I did much better job when I talked about Motifs–and they all loved stealing motifs from the Folklore and Fairy Tale index–they created the coolest plots using plot skeletons. And if you talk about plot skeletons, this will work. Masterplots are really plot skeletons too. DO NOT tell them that any person (sorry Ronald Tobias) ever said there were only 20.

If I had it to do again, I might offer the 20 as plot skeletons–and ask them to create a story using one plot skeleton or two. But, at all costs, no one should bust the creative impulse or dampen it by suggesting that someone else’s plot fits neatly into one of 20 formulas.

Seeing that storm clouds had entered the French library, where we meet every Wednesday for fun and writing, I instead challenged them to break the formulas with their own version of the plots–how do you subvert a Rescue plot (#17) or a Sacrifice plot (#15)? How do you masterfully up-end the Adventure plot? Then I had their hearts back into it!

Don’t do this to adults either. Just don’t. It makes you look hoity-toity, like you know what they can possibly do, and limits creativity.

Yep, I’m writing a Quest plot (plot#1) but you ain’t seen nothing like this quest! hehe.