Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Star Wars and the Bible

I don't really have a blog to stick this thought on, so I'm putting it here.  Consequently I have to make it either about herbalism or education in some way.  What's the connection then?

Hard science fiction can be educational.  In case you haven't heard the term, which incidentally always reminds me of the idea of hard core and soft core pornography and I wonder if that's how it originated,  There is an excellent resource out there, found all over the internet nowadays, called the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness , which ranks works in the genre in terms of plausibility.  The harder it is, the more plausible it is, and working often ends up being shown.  You shouldn't always show your working though, because it can detract from the story.

I've mentioned before why 'Star Wars' is not science fiction, and this seems particularly apposite this morning with the first official British astronaut travelling to low-Earth orbit.  I wonder sometimes whether people are more interested in the film than the actual guy going into space, but to be fair I have no idea whether that's so and it's perfectly feasible there are loads of people who are equally into both.  I sometimes imagine a future where science fiction has become a completely separate genre occurring in a fictional but alternate world.  In the twenty-third century, if there are still human beings around, they could be looking at Star Trek and being enthusiastic about it even though it will be ostensibly contemporary by then.

This is one of the weird things about Star Wars of course - it does not occur at a specific time and place.  All we know is that it's set "long, long ago in a galaxy far away".  One of the effects this has is to make it aim at universality, so it becomes a kind of myth which has themes applicable universally but whose accoutrements are interchangeable with mythical ones, such as light sabres with swords.  This occurs in other areas of popular culture - there's a video game engine, for example, which uses image intensifier goggles as a power-up in one game but a magic spell for seeing in the dark in another.  To me, this stops it from being science fiction, but that doesn't mean it can't still be educational.  It tries to express myth-style universal truths in a way which appeals to the mass market.  The general effect may be positive or negative because of the nature of the message.  It would be interesting to try to re-write Star Wars as a mediaeval-style fantasy with sword and sorcery, but I would be surprised if this hasn't already been done.

I am of course Christian, and therefore believe that what's expressed in the Bible is about the same kind of universals which the likes of Star Wars expresses.  This has been kind of sarcastically acknowledged in the parody or protest religion of Jediism, which people have for example put on census forms as a protest against not being able to express clearly that they are non-religious.  Some people, however, do take Jedi values rather seriously and as valid ways of living one's life.

Before I go on, I want to point out that we live in a culture which is heavily influenced by the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and that religion can be approached anthropologically rather than as a faith to be followed.  For me, the Bible is a sacred text but that doesn't have to mean it is for you or for this to be a project someone can feel positive about without being religious.  You don't have to believe in the Olympians to enjoy the Odyssey or find it educational.  The same applies to the Bible.  The mere fact that it happens to be my religion shouldn't cloud someone's judgement about my view of its value.  That would not be true scepticism.

There are such things as graphic novel versions of the Bible.  They are aimed at people who are less likely to be interested in the Bible than those who are more enthusiastic about the plain text version.  I presume they simply retell Bible stories in comic book form.  There is also stuff like The Message, which I understood previously to be a paraphrase rather than a translation but which some people say is a translation nonetheless.  This does raise an issue in fact, but I'll come back to that.

There is also a Klingon Bible Translation Project which is proceeding extremely slowly.  Some time in the 1990s, I was aware that the Book of Jonah had been translated into Klingon.  I actually wonder if it's really a translation from the Hebrew or from an English version.  It hasn't got much further even twenty years later - three short books of the Tanakh have now been translated plus a couple of Psalms.

Okay, so what I'm proposing is that I will attempt to retell the Bible in a space opera setting.  Clearly I won't be doing the whole Bible in one go in the next week.  Apart from anything else, 'Albedo 0.36' isn't finished even in its first draft.  The reason I want to do this is that a space opera setting of the Bible is likely to appeal to a different demographic than usual, and since I have faith in its universality, it seems likely that there will be a way to present the texts involved in such a setting without distorting their meaning, and in fact to illustrate what to me is the fact that the Bible speaks to all people in all places and times equally well.  I'm not saying we will actually have a space opera type future, any more than Star Wars is supposed to be realistic in that respect - in that case it isn't even set in the future.

So far I have retold the first three chapters of Genesis.  In doing so, I became aware that I had to take up a particular theological position, because as a mainstream Christian, I have difficulty in reading the early chapters of Genesis as anything other than a description of the Fall of the human race.  I also became aware that in order to make it futuristic, I would have to imagine a world in which humans had got as far as having space travel, or almost having it, before they experienced the Fall.  That to me raised the question of whether space travel would even exist if we were not sinful.  I chose to make the entire planet Earth Eden, meaning that history up until space travel was achieved would probably have to be utopian until whatever it is that goes wrong happens.  I also have to be careful depicting exactly what goes wrong.

This is not a translation.  My grasp of Hebrew is exceedingly poor, so I am paraphrasing an English version.  The magnitude of the task of re-telling the entire Bible is vast, so I realise now that I am going to have to take a piecemeal approach.

Something like this has been done before, although I've been unable to track it down. As a child, I heard an audio story about Jonah in a space setting.  I have to be careful to acknowledge that that exists, but can't consciously remember it very well.  Having said that, the book of Jonah is particularly apt for this purpose.  There's also a French story Jonas, by GĂ©rard Klein which does something a little similar although it doesn't follow the Bible text or story at all closely.

Therefore, everything seems to point to Jonah as being the best place to start this project.  In order to do that, I will also need to build the world it's in.  For example, where is the space opera version of the place Jonah fled to, Tarshish?  I would say one of the Magellanic Clouds or possibly Sagittarius DSph - a remote location outside the Milky Way but relatively nearby.  What will the whale or fish be?  Perhaps an artificial organism akin to the aptly-named Leviathan in Farscape, or perhaps just a giant life form native to interstellar space?  Will there be intelligent aliens?  My answer to that last one is in fact yes, but not many of them.  I'm certainly not going to say every planet I depict, say  Nineveh, is populated by aliens, because I see our situation as a uniquely human problem and a planet called Nineveh wouldn't have sinful native life forms, so it will have to be a colony planet.  However, the angels which keep us out of Eden are represented by aliens keeping us off Earth, so there are some aliens, and presumably the Nephilim would have to be aliens too.

This is by no means going to be hard science fiction.  It's space opera, which is seen as  a subgenre of science fiction but isn't.  Space opera emphasises the likes of warfare, melodrama, chivalry and the like.  I have absolutely no problem with setting the Bible in that genre, although it raises the question of what a hard science fiction version of the Bible would be like.

So anyway, here's my plan for the next few weeks:
  • Finish the first draft of Albedo 0.36 and send it to GAILE.
  • Write a space opera version of the book of Jonah.
I shall now adjourn to plan the second project, but the first is still very much in my mind.  It's very close to completion and it'd be a great shame to abandon it now.

There you go, I hope that was at least a little bit education-y.