It’s a truism that science fiction embeds many a kernal of truth, or the possible (if not the probable). A good science fiction writer sees what is now (or was) and takes it to some logical end to see what happens. Sometimes, the results are pure delight: a la Jasper Fforde, and sometimes the results are terrible: The Road comes to mind.
In the latter category is Mars Life by Ben Bova. Intelligent life has been confirmed on Mars from about 60 million years ago, when it was wiped out, presumably by an asteroid event similar to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs on Earth. There are about 200 scientists on Mars carrying out excavations and experiments, and a village is discovered at the bottom of the canyon.
Due to global warming and the decimation of resources, arid areas have become floodplains, the prairies have become desert, and much of the coastline has been lost to much higher water levels. It’s hell on Earth, and sufficient monetary pressure on governments and big business to either donate or make money off the backs of refugees.
Meanwhile, in an increasingly fundamentalist USA, funding for the Mars program is cut and leaders from the religious right are seeking to stop the program entirely, since the concept of intelligent life on another planet clashes with their view of God – i.e. he made humans, to rule the EARTH. This is also a culture in which Darwin has been entirely suppressed, and only creationism is taught in schools.
The battle is to try to sustain the research on Mars with what would be the most important scientific discovery ever, in the face of persecution, lost funds and pressure to open up the planet to tourists.
I found myself alternately swearing and shaking my head in either rebuttal or disbelief, with a palpable sense of discomfort at just how possible this scenario is. As Bova notes in the interview linked above,
I consider religious fundamentalism to be the most serious threat to democracy and individual liberty that this nation has ever faced. Religious intolerance has destroyed great empires in the past. It could destroy the United States of America in the foreseeable future.
Of course, it’s not just the US, but they do seem to have an inordinate number of powerful and wealthy fundamentalists. Even Obama is not immune from their influence, and tactics such as boycotts or blocked advertising aren’t science fiction at all–they are in use today.
It’s very hard to step outside of the facts to try to understand how these people see the world through a little arrow slit of thought and fear and prejudice (so wonderfully detailed by Mark Morford on a regular basis). It’s a mean little world view. An aggressive view. A dangerous view to science, to nature and to tolerance. Scares me more than any monster that a fiction writer might come up with.
Bova does try to show perhaps some alternative, more progressive “spiritual” paths–namely Native myths (Navahoe), and even the Catholic church to some extent. The book itself is in some way an affirmation of a spiritual interpretation to anything that we might discover out there (i.e. God’s work wherever we may find it in the universe).
While that interpretation is unecessary, it’s certainly better than the fundamentalist alternative.
Books that make me think = good stuff.