Posts tagged carl sagan
Three great science fiction stories with religious themes

Science fiction is tailor made to discuss big ideas and ideas that are too controversial to discuss in the normal means. The intersection of these two points is religion and because of this, many of the greatest stories and novels use religion as one of their central points. Here are some of my favorite science fiction stories that discuss religion.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

If the themes of religion in these books were more centralized it would likely be higher on the list but most of the mentions of religion I these books are simply swipes at the ideas something that would bother me if it weren’t so funny. Yet many of the mentions of religion in these stories are devilishly funny. Perhaps the best is at the beginning of most of the books. "In the Beginning the Universe Was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and is widely considered a bad move." He then goes on to discuss how many people think it was created by some sort of God.

The Star by Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke often wrote about religion and his story Childhood's End is one of the best stories about religion but The Star is even more to the point. This is a story about a Jesuit Priest who has went on a trip with a survey team to an exploded star. Something he sees there makes him question his very religion. Any more than that would ruin the fun of the story but if you haven't read it and have any interest in religion you should.

(It's not all that long and the story is here)

Contact by Carl Sagan

After reading "Contact" it is almost hard to understand how so many books that discuss first contact ignore religion. His is a huge part of humanity and though contact with alien races wouldn't necessarily change the beliefs it would certainly impact religion. Although there are other things going on in "Contact" one of the most central themes is religious and what is remarkable is how fair it really is. This isn't Carl Sagan proving religion is for stupid people, it's him thinking about the ideas of religion carefully.

Science fiction is full of stories like these. Some, like "Stranger in a Strange Land" and "Lords of Light" and even "Dune" to some extent involve characters becoming sorts of gods while there are still more that question how the world and the universe came to be. TV and movies also use it well as a central theme in stories like "Deep Space 9" and "Battlestar Galactica" religion comes up often and we will almost certainly continue to see religion in science fiction because the question of God is one that will never be fully answered, and by nature of the theme the best place to think and look about it is science fiction.

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Recommendations for reading you first science fiction book
Science Fiction is not the easiest genre to begin reading. There is a huge variety of books many of which aren't all that good and many more than assume some knowledge of the genre. So as a first time science fiction reader it can be tricky to know where to begin. So, recommending a novel for the friend who is willing to give science fiction a chance or the kid who is just getting old enough to become interested in the genre can be difficult. Here are a few ideas of books that might hook someone. 1> Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card Why? Tops many lists as the best science fiction novel of all time. This is a character driven story in a world that is advanced from ours but close enough to not overwhelm the reader. Who's it for? Anyone who has avoided science fiction because it's all about science. People who want to see interesting characters. Who isn't it for? The snob who thinks that science fiction is for kids. He'll see that the main character is a kid and never  get over it. What Next? Assuming they love Ender's Game there are several good sequels that explore the character and the ramification of his actions further. Then you can let them try "Stranger in a Strange Land" it's far different from Ender's Game but its still good and still about characters. 2> I, Robot by Isaac Asimov Why? As a collection of short stories the first time reader can sit down and enjoy a complete story all at once.  This lowers the chance of them getting distracted. Who's it for? The busy person you know who is constantly starting books but never finishing them or the person with a plane ride who wants to be done when he lands Who isn't it for? The guy who thought that I, Robot was the best movie ever. The three laws and a few names are the main connection between this story and the movie. Someone reading this because they loved the action of the movie will be disappointed. What next? "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Sticking with the robot theme this book initiates readers into the paranoid world of P.K. Dicks without quite the level of weirdness in his other books. This will show them the variety of possibilites even on the same subject. 3> Contact By Carl Sagan Why? This is a science fiction story that feels like a real story based on real technology and discussing themes and ideas that w ould change the world and could really happen. Who is it for? People who look into the sky and wonder who's looking back. Who isn't it for? People who would never watch the science channel. There is a lot of science in this book and if you don't care about it at all you'll get bored. What Next? "2001: A Space Odyssey" Some of the same ideas are explored in 2001 as in contact and someone who liked Contact would almost certainly enjoy 2001. 4> "Star Wars: Heir to the Empire" by Timothy Zahn Why? They know the characters and universe already Who is it for? People who love Star Wars Who isn't it for Star Trek fans. (If they prefer Star Trek try Q Squared by Peter David) What Next? There are a huge number of Star Wars expanded universe books but  getting them out of the Star Wars books you can try "Starship Troopers", it has enough action to keep them entertained.
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