What If? What If?
Religious Themes in Science Fiction

Mike Alsford
ISBN 9780232523478 (0232523479)
Darton, Longman & Todd, 2000

Category: Arts & Media
Reviewed by: Conrad Gempf

If, like me, you've been looking for a way to justify spending time watching Star Trek or reading science fiction, Alsford is your man. All this time that other people think we've been indulging in escapist literary pursuits, it turns out that we've actually been contemplating deep religious concepts in imaginative ways. This book explores the explorations of the genre into such questions as identity, relationships and place. Alsford admirably defines his scope not as religion in science fiction, but as religious themes — themes that are central to religious thinking — so the book has a wider appeal and more authenticity.

This book is based on a course that Alsford teaches at the University of Greenwich, and one of the book's few weaknesses is the way that the lecturer is sometimes as evident as the imaginative explorer: There's more about the philosophers and theologians, I fear, than most readers will like.

One obvious strength of the book is Alsford's wide knowledge. He ranges over philosophers from the pre-Socratics to the postmoderns and fiction from the early utopias bang up to dystopian visions of cyberpunks Stephenson, Noon and Cadigan. And unlike some of the recent books with similar aims, Alsford is equally abreast of developments in cinema, television. Star Trek, all four series, are notably well-represented. This breadth has the odd effect of making the reader wonder about the omissions. I don't, for example, recall any mention of the Star Wars cycle. One also feels he might have done more with comic books and videogames, for if cinema is the new literature then videogames are the new film. He manages a mention of superheroes and of Quake, but it's particularly striking that there is no mention of Anime or any of the other fantastical Japanese megatrends.

One book cannot cover everything however, and Alsford has done a wonderful job of hitting some of the major themes of existence and illustrating their treatment throughout the genre. If you're prepared to wade through the occasional page of philosophers, go for it.

Who will like this book? Science fiction fans looking for guidance in thinking through the implications of what they read and watch; theologians and philosophers interested in how contemporary culture explores religious and existential themes through fiction; science fiction fans or budding theologians looking for recommendations of what to read or watch next.

Conrad Gempf, July 2001

Dr Conrad Gempf teaches New Testament at London School of Theology. He is the author of Jesus Asked (Zondervan, 2003), Mealtime Habits of the Messiah (Zondervan, 2005) and Christian Life & The Bible (LST, 2006). He writes extensively for various books, journals, magazines and websites; here's his blog: Not Quite Art; Not Quite Living.

Previously published by London School of Theology. Reused here by kind permission.

Darton, Longman & Todd

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