Saturday, 25 February 2017

Myth And Technology

"Stirling shows that while our technology influences the means by which we live, it is the myths we believe in that determine how we live. The novel's dual themes - myth and technology - should appeal to both fantasy and hard SF readers as well as to technothriller fans."
-Publishers Weekly quoted on p. i of SM Stirling, Dies The Fire (New York, 2005).

Technology does more than influence. Stirling shows that it is the means by which most of us stay alive. Human beings change their environment with hands and brain and change themselves and their myths in the process. Technology is an artificial extension of hands and brain:

"...the steel an extension of his big battered-looking hands." (p. 35)

It would be hard to find more powerful themes than myth and technology. Olaf Stapledon called his future history an essay in myth. Poul Anderson retold myths and repackaged the myth of a cosmic cycle as hard sf.

Fantasy and sf are very different genres although there are reasons why they are classed together and borderline cases are possible. Poul Anderson wrote both genres. In his hard sf stories, "The Saturn Game" and "The Queen of Air and Darkness," characters enact fantasies in different ways.

A work of fiction about a "demon" is:

fantasy if the demon is conventionally supernatural;
sf if he is rationalized as a powerful alien or dimensional entity;
psychological fiction if he is an illusion or projection;
ambiguous if his status remains unclear.

By Jove, those demons are versatile chaps! In our version of reality, is there any empirical difference between a man who, it is claimed, is literally possessed by a demon and one who suffers from the delusion that he is possessed?

Stirling shows that, with the loss of technology, society would return from historical to mythical time and that, in such a milieu, The Lord Of The Rings could influence how battles were recorded.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

But I believe angels, both good and fallen, to be real, actual, noncorporeal and spiritual rational beings. I don't consider that to be merely fictional fantasy.

The question of possession by a demon is a difficult matter. But the Catholic Church maintains that, for one reason or another, it can sometimes happen. And, in fact, ever diocese is required to have at least one qualified exorcist authorized and licensed by his bishop to investigate alleged cases of possession and conduct exorcisms if necessary (again, pending approval by his bishop).

And you already know how a major character in DIES THE FIRE is such a zealous fan of Tolkien's THE LORD OF THE RINGS that she might have been classified as insane before the Change. BUT, her obsession turns out to have good, sound, practical uses in the post Change world. And, yes, I recall how Astrid's passion for Tolkien shaped how she wrote, including narratives of battles.


Paul Shackley said...

But if a work of fiction includes literal angels or demons we class it as fantasy.
I knew a Jesuit priest who said that Biblical angels merely indicate the presence of God and that the Annunciation and the Temptations in the Desert would not have been literal dialogues. He did not believe in literal angels or demons.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Undertood, what you said about the use of supernatural beings in works of fiction making them fantasies. I have to agree with you there.

I EMPHATICALLY disagree with the Jesuit priest you mentioned. First, on the doctrinal point, he was in serious error. It is DEFINED and binding Catholic doctrine, good and evil, are actual and real beings. Which also means I believe in the Biblical accounts of the angels (while also agreeing they symbolize the presence of God).

I have been puzzled more than once by persons who claim to believe in God but deny angels are real. God could, if He so wished, could (and did) create lesser, non corporeal, spiritual beings. Why should people who say they believe in God find it so hard to accept angels? It does not seem logical to me!

A philosopher as rigorous as the late Mortimer Adler defended the logical possibility of the angels in his book THE ANGELS AND US.