Saturday, 16 March 2013

Religion In Cities In Flight

Pre-Okie period: the Believers, sort of Evangelical Jehovah's Witnesses;
Okie period: an inchoate paganism of "the gods of all stars";
Post-Okie period: the Warriors of God, led by Jorn the Apostle.

The tone of James Blish's Cities In Flight series is entirely secular. Readers and sympathetic characters alike regard the Believers and the Warriors as Fundamentalist fanatics. The end of the universe is a scientific problem and is addressed as adequately as it can be by scientists, philosophers and administrators, not by priests or prophets.

The pragmatist Mayor Amalfi realises that:

" would be fatal to expect [Jorn] to panic if he got a Dirac-'cast claiming to be from Satan -" (James Blish, A Clash Of Cymbals, London, 1959, p. 119)

It is difficult while reading that to remember that Blish's other main end of the world scenario, Black Easter/The Day After Judgement, is not science fiction (sf) but fantasy and does involve a personal appearance and speech by Satan himself, the Satan that was seen by Dante. That fantasy is part of a Trilogy that addresses the question of whether the desire for secular knowledge is evil from a spiritual/supernaturalist point of view. In fact, when we read Blish's secularist sf, theological issues recede.

I question two premises of The Triumph Of Time. Has there been enough time for planetary populations of farmers to grow up in the Greater Magellanic Cloud? And would they so quickly lose a scientific perspective that a Fundamentalism could become a military force?

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