Our writing group met last month and we gave each other a challenge. Our gothic fantasist has to write a modern story, with normal people, no magic or ghosts, and a happy ending. We threatened her with having to write about a nativity play but felt that was taking the challenge a bit too far. And me – I have to write a science fiction story with no families and no relationships.
Which got me thinking: what is the point of science fiction? Is it to enable us to explore other ways of living, to consider questions of life from another angle, to expand our minds, as well as to entertain? And I thought about the classic Christian science fiction trilogy by C. S. Lewis: ‘Out of the Silent Planet’, ‘Perelandra’ and ‘The Hideous Strength’. In these the hero, Ransom, visits Mars and then Venus, and finally battles the forces of evil on earth itself. The novels, as with all Lewis’s fiction, combine fantasy, adventure and beauty with deep, compelling insights into spiritual truths.
Perelandra made the most impact on me as a teenager. Its depiction of a glorious Eden-like world is compelling. I felt that I would give anything to go there. Ransom travels, discovers, endures and is challenged to the utmost limits of his intelligence, faith and physical strength. Lewis uses his journey and this untouched, uncorrupted world to explore deep questions of faith, temptation and loss of innocence; questions that cannot be explored in fiction set in this world.
It is not typical science-fiction, in that it is a spiritual voyage, as much as a voyage to another world. It is slow, drawn-out, philosophical. And brilliant. I recommend all three books: their stories and images will stay with you and nourish you.
And my attempt? Trivial compared to Lewis. But I found that it made me think about a different sort of life. A life with no families or relationships, and with no timetables, no watches, no schedules and no calendars. Could one live? Could society function? And would it be better or worse? It was difficult to write: to try to convey in a short story something of an alien world, something of a different way of living, and at the same time to create an interesting and exciting story. How did I do? I’ll post the story as my next blog…