Half of the enjoyment of a good story, whether it be in literature or film, is often derived from the setting. Stories take us to places we may never go physically, but through our imaginations and with the guidance of those telling the story, we can travel there nonetheless. And perhaps that is why science fiction can hold such tremendous appeal. With this conclusion to our series, we bring ourselves full circle back to the most wondrous aspect of the genre, its setting: space. Space that is full of stars, planets, galaxies and vast mysteries.
In other genres of storytelling, people often look to the stars, dots of light, symbols of hope. Magnificent and haunting specters over our world, the beauty and majesty of the stars have both inspired and frightened generations of humanity. Some have made them the dwelling place of the divine, others have claimed that they are simply balls of light and fire, thousands of light-years away. Debates have been waged over their true nature, their origins and locations in relation to Earth going so far as to provoke charges of heresy and divide the scientific and religious communities. The stars, though apparently having very little influence over our day to day lives, somehow have proven themselves to be far more significant to us than simply points in the sky.
Now I ask you, in what other modern genre are visitors from those stars prominently featured? They may be hostile invaders, as in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and Steven Spielberg’s Falling Skies, or perhaps simply misunderstood, as in Timothy Zahn’s Conquerors Trilogy or Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead. Perhaps they are truly friendly at heart, as Spielberg’s E.T. portrays them.
But what if, what if we ourselves could journey across the stars? That is the beauty of Star Wars and Star Trek, the dream of science fiction fans everywhere. What if we could participate in the fantastic? What if we went to Mars and found it filled with wondrous creatures, good and powerful heroes as well as cunning and villainous men. What if on Mars we found love? That is the question that Edgar Rice Burroughs tries to answer for us through John Carter of Mars. What if a young farm boy dreamed of being more than a simple crop-duster, inspired by the powerful image of the binary sunset over Tatooine? That is the question George Lucas poses and answers through Star Wars. What if men and women put the galactic-wide good of human civilization above themselves? That is the question posed by Isaac Asimov in the Foundation Series. What if man could rise above the mundane and the normal?
The stars call us, they call us to grand and greater things. They call us also to participate in those same things, those things bright and beautiful. “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,” the Psalmist says of the Lord God, “the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” (Psalm 8:3-4 NKJV). There is a reason that the majesty and beauty of space calls to man, calls to grandeur in his thoughts, arouses a sense of longing in his heart to travel amongst the stars. It is because they speak to that Higher Being, the Lord of all that created the heavens and the Earth, and has expressed Himself through His creation, through space, to draw us to recognize Him and His will. Science fiction, as we have seen during this series, at its heart is an attempt to better humanity by looking to and journeying amongst the stars, and that would appear to be exactly how the Lord intended it.