January 28th, 2014 / Author: G.L. Breedon
Since I’ve been writing young adult novels for the last few years, mostly aimed at kids around 13 years old, and since I am leaving that behind to begin writing an epic fantasy series geared toward adults after I publish WOT #3, I thought it would be fun to create a list of books I loved when I was a 13 year old kid — The books that both consciously and unconsciously influenced my storytelling of the last few years. So here are my favorite books from childhood. You’ll no doubt notice they are nearly all sci-fi or have a sci-fi angle.
Rocket Ship Galileo
I’ve written about this novel before. It was one of my first blog entries. Also Heinlein’s first novel. A fun story about a bunch of teens building a rockets ship and taking it to the moon where they find…oh I won’t spoil it.
The Alvin Fernald Series
Clifford B. Hicks
The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald Alvin’s Secret Code, Alvin Fernald, Foreign Trader, Alvin Fernald, Mayor for a Day, Alvin Fernald, Superweasel.
These were just some of the titles in the Alvin Fernald series. They were all published in the 1960s and early 70s. So, why was I reading them in the 80s? Because that’s the kind of library we had in my small town. Books stayed in the shelf a long while and not many new ones arrived to displace them. I loved the series though. Alvin was a bit of a brain, his sister a precocious tagalong, and his athletic best friend a stalwart companion. The adventures were always entertaining and usually had an interesting science based message behind them.
The Mad Scientists Club
Bertrand R. Brinley
This series was one of my favorites. A club of young teen scientists who get into a series of crazy adventures in a small town. Made me wish there were some scientist kids in my small town who wanted to form a mad scientist club. While the science was a bit dated even by the time I read them, the stories still have a bold imaginative punch. What 13 year old science geek wouldn’t want to refurbish a submarine to explore the town lake or stage a UFO hoax? My Young Sorcerer’s Guild series is a loving homage to Brinley’s work.
The Danny Dunn Series
Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams,
I started reading these stories when I was around 10 years old and consumed a bunch of them before I finally moved on to more adult sci-fi. I think I read the last of them (Danny Dunn and the Heat Ray) when I was 13. That was when my dad, who thought I should be reading something a little more sophisticated, handed me Lucifer’s Hammer.
The Mote in God’s Eye
Larry Niven & Jerry Pournell
Not a book aimed at young teens, simply one I loved as a young teen. A dead space probe arrives in a solar system and leads to a military ship being pressed into service as a research and ambassadorial vessel. Great fun. Especially when you’re 13. I read this right after Lucifer’s Hammer. Right before devouring everything Niven and Pournell had written, along with nearly everything Heinlein wrote.
Marion Zimmer Bradley
A crew of teens from an elite space academy head out into deep space and struggle with interpersonal issues and the usual shipboard dangers. How could things go wrong with six brilliant, attractive, and hormonally crazed teens in charge of an interstellar space ship? I’m surprised it hasn’t been optioned for a series on the CW network. I was a great read as kid through (although the illustrations were definitely not age appropriate – not that I complained at the time).
January 7th, 2014 / Author: G.L. Breedon
I was watching the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead this week and it got me to thinking about why I liked the show. I’ve never been very interested in zombie stories. They simply don’t appeal to me very much. I enjoyed The Night of the Living Dead mostly because I thought it was a brilliantly made low budget film and those always interest me. I read World War Z, but didn’t really enjoy it as much as appreciate the skill of the writing and the depth of the research that went into it. It wasn’t the kind of story telling that appeals to me. In fact, calling it storytelling feels somewhat generous. It’s more like deep world building. A big story is being told, but not the sort that involves following characters over time through a plot of events. It’s exactly what it sells its self as – a verbal history of a fictional global event.
However, while I’m not usually interested in zombie stories, I do love a good post-apocalyptic story. The drama of struggling for existence in the face of global societal collapse creates a compelling backdrop for telling stories about characters and how they adapt to the destruction of the world. So, I thought it would be fun to pick out my favorite post-apocalyptic stories. It turned out to be a longer list than I had expected. I suspect this is because as a teen growing up in the 80s in the US, and being a fan of sci-fi, I read a lot of post-apocalyptic stories. I started out with a list if 19 novels and films (many of the films being adaptations of the novels). I trimmed this down the to the top 10.
In no particular order, here are my favorite post-apocalyptic tales:
The Walking Dead
This is at the top of the list purely because I saw it recently. As I said, I don’t usually enjoy zombie stories, but I love this show. I don’t always like the characters, don’t always like the way the writers choose to tell the individual episodes, but I always enjoy the overall story of a small group of strangers coming together to survive. I’ve read some interesting discussions on the web about the dichotomy between Rick and the Governor and how they rule their respective kingdoms. I was surprised to find that people would prefer to be lead by the Governor. Can’t quite figure that out. The only time you want a madman leading you is when you are too afraid to lead yourself.
The Year When Stardust Fell
I read this when I was a teen. Maybe 13 years old. I checked it out from the local library in my small town. A story about a young teen in a small town in the 50s when a passing comet leaves behind a ‘dust’ that causes all machinery to cease functioning. I’ve just started rereading it again, and while it does not hold up to my memories of it, the novel it fun. The clearest memory I have of the novel is explaining it to my grandmother only to find that she had read it herself when she was young. The idea that my grandmother read sci-fi had my mind reeling.
I loved this novel as a kid. I was about 12, I think, when I inherited a copy from my dad after he’d finished reading it. A comet strikes the earth and a large cast had to survive in the aftermath. It hooked me in reading Niven and Pournelle for years.
I read this a few years ago. I had been email with Steve Chbosky, the writer/producer of Jericho a few months before the show came out (I gaffed Steve’s first feature film The Four Corner’s of Nowhere back in the 90s). Anyway when he told me what the show would be about it got me thinking about small towns dealing with nuclear attacks and this had been a novel I had always meant to read. I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. Sadly, more than Jericho, which I never managed to get into the way I had hoped.
On the Beach (novel & film)
Another 50′s story of a small group of people dealing with the aftermath of nuclear war. I saw the film first and then read the novel. I loved the both. They had a mater-of-fact workman like style to them devoid of the sort of melodrama that could have overwhelmed them.
The BBC has a habit of cancelling shows I love. This is one of them. A band of strangers tossed together in the wake of a global pandemic that had eradicated most of humanity. I really enjoyed the characters, and for the most part, the storylines. The question of how people survive is central to the story. What will you do to survive? Will you exploit others to your advantage or try to protect them?
Dies the Fire
I really enjoyed the first three novels of S.M. Stirling’s series. I felt it dragged a bit heading toward the end. So much so, that I have yet to finish the final two novel. However, he sets up a very interesting world, one where the power had gone out and where the laws of the universe have changed. Not only can electricity not be generated, but gunpowder will no longer work, as well. The story blends elements of post-apocalyptic sci-fi with medieval history and fantasy. I have no way of knowing if the creators of Revolution read the novels before creating their series, but I wish they had simply optioned Stirling’s work rather than fashioning a pale imitation.
This one makes the list more for nostalgia’s sake than anything else. Another novel read as a young teen. A small group people in a French castle trying to remake the world after nuclear war.
How can you not like a post-apocalyptic vampire story. These are sci-fi vampires, borne from a mysterious virus and the work of government scientists meddling with things they don’t full comprehend. Once loosed on the world, these vampires destroy it. The story is told in an odd manner, the first 300 pages being essentially a prologue for the following 500, but I found the characters consistently engaging and the writing excellent.
The Stand (novel not TV series)
How could this not make the list. The ultimate end of the world clash between good and evil. Literally. I haven’t read this in ages, but it sticks with me over the years. The post-apocalyptic work that all others get compared to for theme, character creation, breadth of storytelling. I think I need to read it again.
Here, in no real order are the runners up. Several of them should have been on the top list, but I didn’t want to make this an exhaustive exercise.
The Day After
Canticle for Leibowitz
La Jetée / 12 Monkeys
The Planet of the Apes
I Am Legend (novel) / Last Man on Earth / Omega Man / I Am Legend Film
Logan’s Run (novel & film)
The Road (novel & film)
Time of the Wolf
Oryx and Crake
January 1st, 2014 / Author: G.L. Breedon
I haven’t been blogging at all lately. Mostly because I’ve been busy with the day job and traveling for work and trying to edit The Edge of Eternity (The Wizard of Time – Book 3). Also because I haven’t been all that interested in blogging recently. Not exactly sure why. But it didn’t seem to make much sense to force myself to write something I wasn’t all that interested in writing. Honestly, I’d rather spend that free with my wife.
Hopefully in the new year I’ll bet back to a more regular blog cycle. I’m not making a resolution about it. I don’t make resolutions. It’s too depressing when I inevitably break them. But goals are nice. I have several goals for 2014. Getting The Edge of Eternity published by the end of March. Finally publishing my nonfiction book The Alchemy of World and Soul. And writing as many episodes as possible for the new serialized epic fantasy series I’m starting. That seems like more than enough for one person for one year.
October 11th, 2013 / Author: G.L. Breedon
It’s been a busy month since my last post. A job that took me to Chantilly, France. A week in Paris with my wife. A few days back in NYC. Then 10 days in Santa Monica and San Francisco to visit friends and to officiate the wedding of a childhood friend. Then a week to recuperate.
Needless to say, I have not been getting much editing done on The Edge of Eternity (Wizard of Time Book 3). Hopefully I can get the second draft finished by mid-November and a third draft by the end of the year, get it to the editor/proofers in January and have it out in March. That’s the plan.
My last post about sci-fi films of the 1950s left me wanting to watch a few. This last weekend, my wife indulged me in a mini sci-fi film festival to celebrate my 45th birthday. We watched The Thing from Another World, Forbidden Planet, Willow, and Stargate.
My wife’s enthusiasm for sci-fi films from the 1950s does not approach my own. In the same way that my understanding of physics does not approach Stephen Hawking’s. But, she loves me, so she hung in there. She did ask me at one point what I liked about these old movies, because the appeal isn’t obvious to her. The special effects tend to look kind of cheesy, the dialogue is stilted, and the stories can be hard to relate to.
This got me to thinking about the question of what attracts me to sci-fi and fantasy in general. The answer was not immediately clear to me.
Why are some people attracted to one genre of writing or entertainment over another? Why do some folks love westerns, while others like horror, and other mysteries or romances? Why do some people eschew genre trappings and only pursue contemporary fiction and drama?
In my own case, something about sci-fi and fantasy lights up the neurons of my brain in a way that other fiction never has. I appreciate a good mystery and love a good western, but nothing kindles my interest like sci-fi and fantasy.
I always loved to read as a kid. My father was a bibliophile and my parents were big on reading being a thing you did as a kid. They were always buying me books, until I started getting an allowance and buying my own. The first book I remember really being interested in enough to want to read twice was a sci-fi book. The first sci-fi book I ever read. I think I must have been about 8 or 9 years old. I remember I was in 3rd grade. I think.
I can’t remember the title of the book, but I remember it was about a space ship that traveled to the moon. To me, most stories have two layers of interest. What the plot is about and what the characters do. But even in that simple sci-fi story I could see a third layer of ideas, even if I couldn’t articulate that. The ideas drew me in.
Sci-fi, far more than fantasy, is about ideas. In essence the idea of a world where things we can only imagine now are possible. This, for me, is probably the essential appeal of sci-fi and fantasy. The immersion in a world that is different from our own. In sci-fi it’s usually an extrapolation forward into some possible future, while in fantasy it’s usually a reimagining of a particular time in our past. In sci-fi the impossible is accomplished through science and technology, while in fantasy the impossible is accomplished through magic.
In both the stakes are usually higher than what you might find in other genres. In a mystery the heroine is trying to find the killer. In a western the hero is trying to defeat the outlaw and maybe save the town. In sci-fi the hero might be trying to save the entire planet from an alien invasion, or in fantasy the heroine might be trying to save the whole kingdom from a monstrous menace.
Ideas. Heightened stakes. Immersive alternate worlds. Possible futures. Heroic characters.
Really, what’s not to like?
Of course it’s deeper than that. There is also a strong vein of justice that dominates genre fiction. Criminals get caught in mysteries. Outlaws brought to the law in westerns. Romance, sci-fi, and fantasy also have a strong sense of moral justice running through them. That, I think, is also part of the appeal. When you read a contemporary non-genre novel you expect that the villain may go unpunished or the protagonist may be a reprehensibly unlikable character. Some genre fiction blurs that moral line with unsavory characters and plots with thwarted justice, but by and large they present relatively stable moral universe. Evil is punished and good rewarded.
Now, there are probably plenty of pseudo psychological explanations for why people would be attracted to that kind of story world. I can only speak for my own, and hope that I am aware enough of my motivations and desires, conscious and unconscious, to explain them accurately. For me it is not that I wish to escape from the ‘reality’ of our world with its moral complexities and vagaries, but rather that I enjoy imagining the possibility of another world where things are not more simple, but rather where that complexity engenders a deeper sense of the best potentials of human nature even when confronting the worst aspects of human behavior.
So, in a nutshell that’s why I like sci-fi and fantasy and why I choose to write the kinds of stories I do rather than other kinds of stories.
I like ideas. I like imaging other possible worlds. I like adventure. I like heroism. I like seeing the impossible accomplished. I like justice.
I also like aliens, cool space ships, robots, ray guns, magic swords, dragons, and castles.
Maybe that’s why I really like sci-fi and fantasy.
September 5th, 2013 / Author: G.L. Breedon
I have always had an odd fascination with sci-fi films from the 1950s. More than any other decade the films of the 1950shave always seemed to epitomize the classic sci-fi story tropes: Space Travel and Exploration, Alien Invasion, Atomic Apocalypse, Mutant Madness.
Maybe I was influenced by reading my grandfather’s old copies of Popular Science and Popular Mechanic from the 50’s. Maybe it was because our rural school library had such out dated books on space travel. Maybe it was because I started reading the sci-fi of Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, and Bradbury from the 50s. The first sci-fi book I ever read was Rocket Ship Galileo. Maybe our local UHF station played more sci-fi films from the 50s than from other decades.
Who knows. Whatever the reason, the fascination with sci-fi film from the 50’s has clung to me. In college I took a film history class. As my research project I wrote a paper titled The Apocalyptic Nature of Science Fiction Films of the 1950s. I lost it somewhere along the way. It’s one of the few things I wrote in college that I wish I could go back and read. I won’t attempt to recreate it here, but I thought it might be fun to share my favorite sci-fi films from the 50s. So, here they are:
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
I love this film. It’s a great first contact story. Alien arrives to tell us to keep to ourselves or else. No “Hi, great to meet you. Would you like to join our interstellar club?” No “Surrender your planet.” No “Surrender your biologically incompatible women.” Just a simple “We see what sort of riffraff you are and if you try that in our neighborhood, we’ll kick your ass.” And there’s the whole bit with the alien (who looks very human as they tended to in the 19050s) on the run and the romantic interest with the single mom. There’s even a scientist and a kid. All this movie needed was a central dog character.
The Thing from Another World (1951)
Scientists trapped in the Antarctic discover a flying saucer and a giant ‘thing’ in a block of ice. What could go wrong with melting the ice to take a closer look? I love a story about people stuck someplace remote who have to deal with some dire problem all alone.
When Worlds Collide (1951)
This is super cheesy, but I still love it. Another planet is swing by ours. From where? How is that possible? Won’t it be a frozen wasteland? Such things need not concern you. They certainly didn’t concern the filmmakers. Humanity must build a rocket. Or, the rich guy must build a rocket. And save all the white people. Or at least I assume they only saved the white people, unless all the other folks where in 3rd class. For all its faults, many of them omnipresent in films of the era, it’s still a fun little story.
It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)
A crew trapped in space with a creature that is killing them one by one. Sound familiar? No its not Voyage of the Space Beagle (first story) or Alien. They’re all similar tales, but this one I find fun in only the way a 1950s film with a limited budget could be.
The War of the Worlds (1953)
Martians invade. Apparently without first doing a site survey to make sure they’d be getting a hospitable world after killing all the natives. If only they had thought to wear surgical masks. A ridiculous ending (from the book) but still a fun Aliens Are Destroying The World film.
I had only ever seen the Americanized version (Godzilla) until a few years ago. This is a much superior film. Thoughtful, engaging, and a giant fire breathing monster kicks down a city. What’s not to like?
This Island Earth (1955)
I saw this when I was about ten for the first time. Spent weeks hoping someone would send me a crazy machine to assemble in my basement. It’s a nice twist on the first contact story. They’ve come for our help. After a fashion.
Forbidden Planet (1956)
There is so much to like about this film. A story inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the set design, Walter Pidgeon, a robot, a deserted alien city, a mysterious monster, interstellar space patrol. It’s like someone figured out how to make the perfect 1950s film equivalent of a sci-fi burrito. Yum.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
This is probably my favorite of all the sci-fi films from the 50s. Simple, leans storytelling. Part of what I love about it is that it is a story that doesn’t require most of the usual trappings of a sci-fi film. No special effects. No space ships, or robots, or unusual set design. Just people in a small town trying to deal with their neighbors not being their neighbors anymore.
The Blob (1958)
Teens save the world from mounting man-eating meteor menace. A great small town against the alien story. They never explain how the damned thing gets around so fast when it’s not on screen, but the story had just the right amount of tension, horror, and teen rebellion.
On the Beach (1959)
An end of the world story that plays out very differently from the usual atomic apocalypse tale. The people of a small Australian town pull together to face the end rather than turning into a bunch of selfish savages.
A More Complete List:
Destination Moon (1950)
Rocket Ship X-M (1950)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
The Thing from Another World (1951)
When Worlds Collide (1951)
Red Planet Mars (1952)
Abbot and Costello Go to Mars (1953)
Invaders from Mars (1953)
It (Came from Outer Space) (1953)
The Lost Planet (1953)
The War of the Worlds (1953)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Target Earth (1954)
Conquest of Space (1955)
This Island Earth (1955)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Earth vs The Flying Saucers (1956)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
Quarter Mass 2 (1957)
The Blob (1958)
The Fly (1958)
From the Earth to the Moon (1958)
It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)
On the Beach (1959)
August 14th, 2013 / Author: G.L. Breedon
The first draft of The Edge of Eternity (The Wizard of Time – Book 3) is finally done. Now I will hopefully have more time for blogging inbetween revisions. I hope to have it revised, edited, proofed and beta read by sometime in early 2014. I had hoped to have it done by the end of the year, but my day job schedule is going to be too busy for that.
I was thinking that it since I’ve been writing YA fantasy and sci-fi it might be fun to post the books I most remember from my own youth. So here they are:
Lucifer’s Hammer (Larry Niven Jerry Pournell)
This is a great end of the world novel. At least I remember it as such. It captivated my 12 year old brain like nothing before.
Mote in God’s Eye (Larry Niven Jerry Pournell)
I think this was my first real space opera. I read it right after Lucifer’s Hammer. I’ve been meaning to reread them, but I haven’t had the time.
Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert Heinlein)
I Reread this about two years ago. Not nearly as good as I had remembered it. Very preachy in a Libertarian way. And I was no longer in the choir.
1984 (George Orwell)
Read this again recently as well. Also not as good as I remembered it. I see why it has a place in history, but it could lose about 20,000 words to pick of the pace.
Brave New World (Aldus Huxley)
What I remember most about reading this is my dad wondering aloud if I should be reading it because I was only 13 and he hadn’t read it until he was in his twenties. I think I must have said something like “It’s not my fault you’re slow.” Very smart ass. I remember being so bummed when I wasn’t able to watch the 1980 NBC TV mini-series based on the book. It stuck with me so long that two years ago I found a copy on DVD bootlegged on line and bought it for $10. It doesn’t hold up so well. But interesting. I can see why I was so attracted to it. I’ve always been attracted to utopian and dystopian stories.
Lord of the Flies
I remember reading it when I was 13 and being very conscious that it was a novel that adults read and thought about. Always liked the mystical character Simon the most. I identified with him in a strange way.
Wizard, Titan, and Demon (John Varley)
I remember them as a wild adventure. I couldn’t stop reading them. I have the first of the series I bought last year to reread, but haven’t gotten around to it.
A Matter for Men (David Gerrold)
I think I read this the summer I was 17 just before college. It has always been my favorite alien invasion story. Still waiting faithfully for the 5th book after 15 years. Guess I shouldn’t beat myself up for taking time with projects.
Dune (Frank Herbert)
I remember loving the novel and being soooo disappointed with the movie. My friend and I dragged our families to see it and they all so hated it and gave us grief for days.
July 7th, 2013 / Author: G.L. Breedon
I am busy working on the first draft of The Edge of Eternity (Wizard of Time Book 3) and haven’t had much time for blogging. However, I thought it might be fun to post a list of my favorite spaceships from TV and movies. So, below you will find them in no particular order – except the last one.
The Enterprise (From Star Trek The Motion Picture)
I remember seeing this ship in the theater when the movie came out. I was probably 11 or 12. I had been reading about the design for months in Future Life Magazine. I wanted to live on that ship. I had seen Star Wars, but had never felt the same desire to inhabit the world of a space craft.
The Discovery (2001: A Space Odyssey)
I watched 2001 for the first time when I was about 16 after having read the book. It made me feel like I had stepped into the world predicted by Popular Science and Popular Mechanics and Chesley Bonestall in Colliers Magazine in the 1950s. My grandfather had some of these magazines in his basement and I had devoured them when I was 10 of 11. Seeing 2001 made me feel like those younger day dreams could come to life.
The Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)
Pretty much every male my age wanted to fly the Millennium Falcon when they were a kid. As an adult what I like about the ship is it’s non-symmetrical design. It’s a half saucer, with two projecting forward wings and an offset command module. And it moves in the direction of the narrow end of the ship. It breaks expectations in really interesting ways as a design, which I like about any work of art.
A living ship with sleek lines and an organic Art Nouveau meets alien spaceship design. Farscape is my favorite sci-fi show for the simple reason that when I was 13 I wanted to be John Crichton, even though he wouldn’t exist as a character for decades. Watching that show felt like having my childhood daydreams brought to life before my eyes. And, much like the reaction I had when I was a kid to The Enterprise from ST:TMP, I wanted to live aboard Moya the moment I saw the first episode.
Galactica (Battle Star Galactica Reboot)
What I love about the Galactica ship, and the bridge in particular, is that it seems so practical, so functional. It’s low tech as the future of space travel. I don’t have the same desire to hop aboard for an extended stay the way I do with Moya, but it feel like I could figure out how everything on the bridge worked and volunteer as part of the crew if I needed to.
The Crystal Ship (The Fountain)
This is my favorite starship design. So simple. So elegant. Implying a technology so advanced that it doesn’t need to present itself as technological. A crystal sphere with a tree as living cargo, crossing vast distances of space without even the suggestion of an engine room. The mystic explorer in me wants one badly.
June 9th, 2013 / Author: G.L. Breedon
Created by AcademicEarth.org
Ray Bradbury‘s Fahrenheit 451 is one of my favorite dystopian novels (Brave New World is probably my favorite).
The video above is a nice little synopsis of the novel and it’s major themes. The entire book encapsulated in 2 minutes and 35 seconds. Like a whole meal in tablet form from the Jetsons. Its creator sent me the link and asked me to share, which I encourage everyone else to do as well.
The video got me to thinking about the novel and thinking about reading it again. I can’t remember if I read it when I was 13 when I read 1984 and Brave New World for the first time, or whether I read it later, possibly in college. However, one of the nice things about having too many books (which really means I don’t have enough book shelves) is that I was able to find a copy in less than a minute.
It also got be thinking about Bradbury as a writer of short seminal novels – Fahrenheit 541, Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Dandelion Wine. Technically Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine are unified short story collections, but the thought that occurred to me is that these novel are an inspiration to a new writer like myself – to create something that is not simply entertaining, but a lasting work that that will speak to readers about core human issue decades in the future.
So, in the interest of inspiring myself, I’ll add 451 to the top of the reading pile and the film to the movie queue. Below is a little collage of the novel’s covers I created for fun. I always think it interesting to see how a popular novel’s cover changes over time, reflecting the design ideas popular culture at the time.
May 14th, 2013 / Author: G.L. Breedon
There were a couple interesting articles this last week at io9 and at Slate addressing the question of whether or not Religion and Science and be reconciled. The explicit conclusion of the Slate article by physicist Sean Carroll is that they are not. The comments to both articles seem, in general, to agree.
Carroll’s article is mostly about why he won’t take money from the Templeton Foundation, but links to an earlier blog post about why he feels Science and Religion are not compatible.
A key quote:
“The reason why science and religion are actually incompatible is that, in the real world, they reach incompatible conclusions. It’s worth noting that this incompatibility is perfectly evident to any fair-minded person who cares to look. Different religions make very different claims, but they typically end up saying things like “God made the universe in six days” or “Jesus died and was resurrected” or “Moses parted the red sea” or “dead souls are reincarnated in accordance with their karmic burden.” And science says: none of that is true. So there you go, incompatibility.”
Needless to say, this got me thinking (not for the first time) about the relationship between Science and Religion.
While I agree with everything Carroll wrote in his blog, I find I disagree with his conclusion. He, and most folks, think of Religion as a whole thing, rather than being made up of several constituent aspects, some of which, I believe, are compatible with Science.
Off the top of my head I think you could at least subdivide any religion into the aspects of Mythology, Theology, Ritual, Ethics, Spirituality, and Mysticism.
Mythology is the stories that a particular religion tells about the world and its founders. If these stories have no historical or provable component, they require Faith (yes with a capital F). The Mythology of Region is not compatible with Science. Science requires proof for belief, and always remains willing to change it’s mind. Mythology must be taken on Faith.
Theology is the way the myths are interpreted and how doctrine is explained and defined over time. Theology changes, but myths do not. Here, as with Mythology, there can be little compatibility with Science. Theology generally seeks to reinforce the founding beliefs espoused by Mythology and give them legitimacy through philosophical rationalization, rather than empirical evidence. One proves the existence of a supreme being that created the universe with Theology, but not with Science (unless some better evidence to the contrary arises at some point).
Ritual is the way a religion is expressed in practice — the liturgy, prayers, and practices that comprise the collective and individual worship. That final word — worship — is the key indicator that Ritual is not compatible with Science. There simply isn’t any overlap between Ritual and Science.
Ethics, the moral values and injunctions that a religion promulgates, are usually thought of as the purview of philosophy, but I think that the Science can study ethics. Certainly psychologists study the ethical development of humans and sociologists and anthropologist can study the ethical behaviors of different societies around the world and throughout history. While these fields are not what is typically thought of as “hard” science, they all make use of the scientific method to establish facts about the human world.
Spirituality, the intentional cultivation of peaceful states of mind like love, compassion, patience, and equanimity, is another aspect of Religion that I think can be compatible with Science, in particular, psychology. Psychologists can and do study different states of mind, the means for achieving them, and their affects on individuals and communities.
Lastly, Mysticism, by which I mean the meditative practices for achieving deep states of conscious awareness in which perceptions about the nature of reality are heightened or altered, can potentially be an aspect of Religion that is compatible with Science. Mysticism is an inner practice of examining the Ultimate Nature of Reality, an area Science leaves to physics. Certainly psychologists and neuroscientists can examine the brains of meditators who are claiming to have a non-normal perception of reality, but this does not prove that this perception — of the non-dual nature of reality espoused by Buddhists (Emptiness), Hindus (Brahman), or Jewish, Christian, and Muslim mystics (Godhead) — is accurate and factual. We can argue that our normal perceptions are “proven” by collective agreement, i.e. if enough people say the sky is blue, it is likely to be blue. A similar claim is made by interspiritual mystics, that if thousands of people have preformed the same experiment (meditation) and obtained a similar result (a non-dual perception of reality), then this perception can be taken as at least a provisionally accurate description of the full nature of reality. Proving this perception through the science of physics is a more complicated matter.
Integral philosopher Ken Wilber has cautioned against hitching one’s mysticism to physics, because as the physics of the day changes, one must either readjust one’s mysticism to match, or give up the association. New Age seekers have spent decades pointing to the ‘non-intuitive conclusions of quantum physics’ (to borrow a phrase from Carroll’s blog post), to suggest that mystical perceptions of reality are in fact scientifically founded. However, String Theory (‘theory’ being a poor word choice), assuming it can ever proceed to an actual experimental stage of development, might upend the conclusions of mystics. As might whatever the cutting edge physics is a hundred years from now.
This doesn’t men that we should not use Science to investigate Mysticism. While it doesn’t make sense to try and match up mystic perceptions of the ‘Ultimate Nature of Reality’ with hand picked theories from physics, it also doesn’t make sense to wall off Mysticism and Science. To me, Science and Mysticism are compatible because Science can explore, in both mathematical and experimental manners, the perceptions that are presented by Mysticism. In the same way that Science and look at the wavelength of the light reflecting from the sky and tell us that it is what we typically label the color ‘blue,’ Science can also examine the claims about the non-dual nature of reality to determine if it is merely a perceptual bias (seeing what we expect to see) generated by slowly altering the neural connections of the human brain, or if it has a basis in fact and is an accurate description of the universe. (As a side note, see physicist David Bohm‘s work on what he refers to as the Implicate and Explicate Orders of reality.)
This is actually what I think the mission of the Templeton Foundation is aiming at, and for which I think Carroll might reconsider his self imposed ban on Templeton funding. His presumption is that the perceptions of mystics about the Ultimate Nature of Reality are fantasies, but the science to investigate them has not really been done yet.
I think I might also add the additional area of the Supernatural, although it is not strictly as aspect of Religion. Science tends to disregard any “supernatural” phenomenon as errors in perception with no basis in fact or reality. Whether it’s ghosts or precognition or telepathy, the presumption is that these are artifacts of imaginative minds.
Simply because a phenomenon is non-repeatable, does not mean it did not take place. In fact, I tend to think of many supernatural phenomenon as ‘non-repeatable unique expressions of reality.’ In other words, we may not have the science to explain something that has happened, and a perceived event may not be entirely a product of the perceiver’s imagination and perceptual bias. I have personally had several experiences that defy any explanation by physics as we understand it now. However, I do not attempt to reach conclusions about these events, or foist upon them some supernatural ‘explanation’ because doing so doesn’t help me find the truth of what I experienced. Seeking the truth of such non-repeatable unique expressions of reality should be done with a scientific approach involving investigation, hypothesis, and experiment.
So, while I agree that some aspects of Religion are not compatible with Science (Mythology, Theology, and Ritual), I do think that others clearly are (Ethics, Spirituality, Mysticism). I also think that Supernatural phenomenon need the investigation by Science to better understand how these non-repeatable unique expressions of reality can so frequently flaunt the commonly understood laws of physics.
And that is enough deep thinking for the day!
May 2nd, 2013 / Author: G.L. Breedon
Storytelling is not easy. I know this because I see and read bad story telling all the time. It’s no easy task to create an interesting idea with an exciting plot and engaging characters. I’ve decided that a fun blog post might be listing off the things I’ve learned from the well written stories I’ve read and watched lately. It might even be something I do regularly.
(It probably goes without saying, but spoilers will follow)
Things I Learned Watching Alias
- If your story has a central character – make sure your character stays central to your story. My wife and I recently discovered Alias and Netflix. We watched all five seasons in a little over a month. Yes, we enjoy binge viewing. I found that, while having subplots for the secondary characters was enjoyable, the more the story drifted from Sydney, the less fun and engaging the overall story tended to be. This was especially true in the final season where new characters were introduced and ate up too much screen time. I realize the writers needed to work around Jennifer Garner being pregnant, but they could have taken a few lessons from The X-Files episodes where Gillian Anderson was pregnant. Just because she can’t do the fight scenes doesn’t mean you need to find a stand in. Let it be an opportunity for her character to do other things. Lesson: Know who your story is about and keep it that way unless there is a good reason to change the character focus.
- Make sure your McGuffin (or central mystery) has a real pay off – and that it doesn’t stretch believability too far. The whole Rambaldi stuff annoyed me. I found that the episodes that dealt with real world issues (WMDs, terrorists, etc.) were much more engaging than all of the Rambaldi storylines. And I would normally love this kind of thing. But it’s like too much ice cream. A cone worth is tasty, a quart can make you sick. Most annoying was the gut feeling that none of it mattered because the central question of Rambaldi (how this guy could invent/channel all this science and technology 500 years ago) was going to remain unanswered. The quest was always about finding another Rambaldi artifact rather than finding out who Rambaldi was and how he did these amazing things. To me, the man Rambaldi was more interesting than the artifacts he created, much in the way Da Vinci the man will always be more interesting than his art and inventions. To me at least. Lesson: McGuffins can have a nasty bite if note feed properly.
- A single central mystery McGuffin for a story series needs to be large enough to last the entire story cycle if it is going to be the main focus. Oh how I hoped with the beginning of each season that the Rambaldi storyline would be forgotten. But no. It kept coming back like a bad basement mold. A convenient crutch so the characters would have one more quest to go on, one more artifact to obtain, like some endless video game. Lesson: McGuffins can die if not fed properly.
- Don’t be afraid to kill off the villain and get a new one. There was no reason to keep Sloan along as the villain for all those seasons. Shifting loyalties are interesting to explore in a series. For instance, I love how the writers of Farscape dealt with the changing motivations and loyalties of Craise and Scorpius. With Sloan however, there was the added problem of believability. The CIA would never let him run an operation. He would always pose a security risk. And I could never believe that Sydney would be in the same room as Sloan after DS6 was taken down. But the real problem is that since his main motivation was Rambaldi, he never really felt threatening enough. Self-interested, yes. Dangerous, yes. But he always seemed more like a deranged art collector willing to kill for the final piece for his collection. Lesson: If your villain stops being interesting your heroine will stop being interesting as well.
Things I Learned Watching The Walking Dead and Revolution
- The writers of Revolution should spend more time watching The Walking Dead. I know, that’s a bit snarky. Actually, the writers of Revolution should spend more time reading S.M. Stirling’s Dies the Fire and Emberverse books. The lesson being that writing a show around a mystery is very hard to do. Lost is a clear success but there are many failures (The Event, Flashforward, etc.). The reason that Lost succeeded (or at least got renewed long enough to finish its story) is because the mystery was wrapped up with the character development. It’s hard to care about the answer to a mystery, but it’s easy to care about characters. Which is why I enjoy The Walking Dead. There isn’t much emphasis on the mystery of why zombies have taken over the world. That’s not as important as what is happening to the people who are trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. Lesson: Mystery is great for hooking the audience, but to keep them engaged you need engaging characters with struggles people care about.
- As a side note, I think this is why many people were unsatisfied with the ending of Lost. The writers made two mistakes. First, they gave too much emphasis to the mysteries, so some people thought they were watching a show about mysteries and not characters. And second, they let people think they were watching a show with mysteries that would have science fiction answers rather than mystical-fantasy answers. Lesson: Be clear what kind of story you are telling.
Things I Learned Reading The Twelve
- Flashback are not easy. Justine Cronin is very good at writing flashbacks. But he does’t call them that. Instead he writes his flashbacks as a 180 page prologue. Which sort of works, but distances us from the characters in the future who we have been waiting to spend time with since the end of The Passage. That novel also had a long prologue (300 pages) set at the end of the world rather than 90 years later where the rest of the novel takes place. In The Twelve, he also has us spend a lot of time with characters in the past who will end up dead and who will not be tied to the story in the future. Which makes me wonder why I spend 100 pages reading about them. Lesson: If you want to keep people engaged in the story and characters, cut between the individual stories, past and present, more frequently. And make sure it’s clear why you are telling a character’s story, especially if they end up dead and we never see them again.
That’s enough for now. Hopefully I can actually take these lessons to heart and make my own storytelling stronger.