The Words of the Carlson Family

Science Fiction

Paul Carlson
January 18, 2004

This month we’ll discuss one of my favorite subjects, fantasy and science fiction (F&SF) stories. I’ve been reading them since I was a child. Lately I’ve attended conferences, and gotten to know several authors.

Science fiction, unlike some fiction genres, provides intellectual as well as emotional fulfillment. One of its major purposes is to get people thinking.


Unificationists place a high value on HDH reading, and we strive to find enough time for that. Why, then, should we read something so "far out" as F&SF?

The Divine Principle begins by explaining that blind faith is no longer enough; that modern people need logical, scientific explanations. We are charged to witness to every person in the world. How do we reach the vast number of secular and intellectual people, the ones who run modern science and technology? You need a common base, and in their circles, F&SF is of nearly universal interest.

Besides, the reader can benefit. Don’t let science fiction’s unfamiliar words scare you off. Some folks have told me they don’t understand what’s in SF novels, and thus, won’t even try looking at them. I think that’s a crying shame.

What better way to learn? Instead of expensive, boring textbooks, you get to enjoy an exciting novel! One with sympathetic characters, unusual settings and great action, plus scientific concepts you’ll grasp and hardly know you’ve done it.

Believe me, it’s not all fancy gadgets and alien monsters. There are SF romances, murder mysteries, military adventures, and so much more. Good authors do meticulous background research, and it shows. (Too bad the movie versions usually trash all that . . . )


A century ago, Jules Verne, HG Wells, and a handful of others foresaw our modern world. Sixty-five years ago, during SF’s Golden Age, editor John W Campbell set literary standards for what had become a ‘pulp novel’ business. Then George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World shocked humanity by portraying how terrible things could become.

Science fiction has often been used to address human concerns from a fresh perspective. By removing the scene to an alien world, current problems can be described without the ‘baggage’ of prejudice and misconceptions. Stories that predict tragedy have a cautionary value, and are known in the trade as ‘If This Goes On’ plots.

Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek universe does this very well. I’ve had many serious chats with my son about the ‘real world’ troubles it obliquely depicts. (Often, centered upon the planet Bajor.) Many of its episodes also deal with spiritual issues.


The hopes and ideas of each author are expressed in their novels. Sometimes this happens unconsciously, while at the other extreme, they pound you with didactics.

Most cyberpunk authors are radicals, as with Neal Stephenson’s antigovernment Snow Crash. Quite a few SF writers are conservative. Michael Flynn’s The Nanotech Chronicles has many good social lessons.

Most fantasy authors are pagans at heart, and can help us understand such individuals in real life. On the other hand, JRR Tolkien, Madeleine L’Engle, Zenna Henderson, and a handful of others invoke their Judeo-Christian morality.

In his ‘Perelandra’ trilogy, CS Lewis wrote about sin and salvation. His hero, Dr. Ransom, visits a planet where the Fall had never occurred; and then another where he valiantly defeats satan, at the very brink of ruin.

This idea expression is also true in children’s books. The Harry Potter novels are beautifully crafted, if less original than many readers suspect. JK Rowling’s inherent dualism, as with Potter’s several mirrorish foes, would’ve shocked Tolkien. Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy is wondrous and exciting -- and thoroughly pagan.

Please enjoy them all, just understand the author’s viewpoint.


F&SF authors, and their fans, are great debaters. For many, their convention’s high point are the Panels, where writers and experts hold forth on a given subject, and are engaged in vigorous debate by the audience.

Would extraterrestrials believe in God? Either way, what sort of ethics and motivation would govern those alien’s interactions with each other -- and then, with us? Many hope they’d be atheists, as are nearly all of Isaac Asimov’s characters. Others suppose they’ll have found proof of the Divine, as in Robert Sawyer’s Calculating God.

If aliens arose from herbivores, rather than predators (as we did), how would that affect their society? How could aquatic or sessile beings develop technology? What if the aliens didn’t have genders, or had more than two?

No subject is too intense for F&SF, and each topic reflects upon our human nature and endeavors. Of course, a story’s characters can’t be too alien, or the readers will drop it, with baffled frustration.


All of these discussions remain academic -- for now. As I write this, two rovers are trundling around on Mars, searching for evidence that liquid water, and perhaps life itself, once existed there. Sorry to say, there will be no ancient Martian cities, but life of any kind would be a mind-blowing discovery. Several ‘First Human Landing on Mars’ novels are now in print.

New space telescopes, far more powerful than the Hubble, will look for oxygen atmospheres on planets around other stars. Such distant, life-bearing worlds could be targets for exploration. It’s even possible that (microbial) life spread there from our Earth, or visa-versa, as per Robert Zubrin’s ideas.

Of course, people really want to find an intelligent species. Years ago, during a Q&A session, someone asked Rev. Moon about this. His reply was instructive: "Let’s worry about one planet at a time."

By the year 2004, our radio and TV signals have spread across dozens of light years, passing thousands of stars along the way. Even now, aliens (with sensitive enough receivers) could be watching I Love Lucy.

But what about their signals? The SETI Institute is listening for any such broadcasts. That field is swarming with skeptics and crackpots, but the SETI folks know what they’re doing. Their efforts, and actual staff, are well portrayed in Carl Sagan’s novel Contact, and the even better movie version.

If SETI ever succeeds, it will rank among history’s greatest discoveries. Whatever the aliens are like, for us humans, everything will change. No matter what they believe, most religions will have to modify their doctrines, or risk becoming a new Flat Earth Society. (One such scenario is described in Jack McDevitt's The Hercules Text.)

There is only one way to find out, and that’s to keep looking until we find something out there -- or don’t. Either way, for humanity, that knowledge will be profound. For now, only God knows.


Here are some excellent, often lesser known, F&SF titles. Some are part of a series. You can find them in the library, on Amazon, or at many Used Book shops.

1) Fantasy Worlds:

Sheepfarmer's Daughter, by Elizabeth Moon. (Comparable to Tolkien. She can sword fight in real life!)

Swords in the Mist, by Fritz Leiber (Rollicking, ribald adventures. My friend David Wilson edited some of his work.)

2) Alien Interactions:

Gateway, by Frederick Pohl. (Puzzling, hidden aliens.)

The Pride of Chanur, by CJ Cherryh. (Cat-like alien heroine.)

Midnight at the Well of Souls, by Jack L Chalker. (Amazing transformations.)

3) Time Travel:

Atlantis Found, by R Garcia y Robertson. (Time travel with Bronze Age humor.)

The Time Patrol, by Poul Anderson. (Officer rides his timecycle.)

The Fires of Paratime, by LE Modesitt. (Corrupt rulers are undone.)

4) Fantastic Encounters:

A Logical Magician, by Robert Weinberg. (Nerd outfoxes the supernatural.)

Magic Kingdom for Sale-Sold! by Terry Brooks. (Man finds a parallel universe.)

Memnoch the Devil, by Anne Rice. (Note: adult fare! She almost gets the Fall of Man right.)

5) Big Concepts:

The Star Diaries, by Stanislaw Lem. (Funny and highly imaginative.)

Brightness Reef, by David Brin. (Startling aliens, and galactic intrigue.)

Excession, by Iain Banks. (Huge, self-aware starships.)

A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge. (Interwoven levels of civilization.)

The Broken Land, by Ian McDonald. (A silent heroine, and hands-on biotech.)

6) People Stories:

Resurrection, by Arwen Elys Dayton. (Alien lady visits Earth on a desperate mission.)

Rite of Passage, by Alexei Panshin. (Girl grows up on a starship.)

Reefsong, by Carol Severance. (Young woman defends an aquatic world.)

Way Station, by Clifford D Simak. (Old codger serves the galaxy.)

The Final Planet, by Andrew M Greeley. (Irish psychic finds love.)

Leap Point, by Kay Kenyon. (Small town lady saves Earth.)

Contact me for further recommendations.

by Paul Carlson 

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