20 February 2016
A Gift to the Dead and a Warning to the Living
Typically, when authors pen “literature of the future,” what they are actually writing about are the events of the present and the anxieties that political, economic, and environmental circumstances instill in humanity. As past student Zach Mayfield states in his essay “The Beat Goes On” in reference to the Book of Revelation, “it was during a time when Christians were being suppressed by the Roman empire” that the ideas written in that biblical text came to life. In order to ease their chagrin, an apocalyptic fantasy was crafted in which this physical world, full of pain and unfairness for the Christian faithful, would melt away and be replaced by a New Jerusalem. This cyclical theme of the destruction of the current, less-than-ideal system and replacement with the better, sublime existence is not exclusive to Revelation and can be seen in numerous places in the Bible, including God’s destruction of the Earth in the time of Noah and the decimation of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The works we have examined thus far in this course seem to share similar ideas, albeit with their own differences and messages, and I would like to explore the motif of cyclical societal evolution as a running theme in futuristic literature.
On the other hand, in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, we are shown that it is possible for texts to not focus solely on an apocalyptic/creation narrative, but also have the capability of weaving evolutionary themes in, as well. Butler’s novel has many parallels to the creation story in the Bible’s Genesis, with Lauren’s gated neighborhood bearing similarities to the Garden of Eden and her access to her father’s library resembling the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The more Lauren learns of the state of the world and the people in it, the more it becomes increasingly apparent that she will be, by choice or by necessity, cast out of her safe haven and forced to toil along her road of pilgrimage to her own personal Mecca. Her notion that “God is change” additionally bolsters this theme of cyclical creation and destruction. The obvious difference, in this case, is that Lauren is more of the savior or prophet archetype, with the inception of her new religion, Earthseed, and is not at all responsible for the ruin and ejection from her oasis of a community, unlike Adam and Eve.
Likewise, in Terry Bisson’s “Bears Discover Fire,” the idea that bears in the southern United States have learned to create, harness, and manipulate fire presents an evolutionary narrative in the sense that animal existence has changed and eliminated the taxing need for hibernation. While it does not initially seem so, human beings in the story must also adapt to this never-before-seen ability of their creature counterparts, dealing with bears ostensibly camping on highway medians and blaming the animals for fires that envelope residential homes. Fire has always symbolically represented the embodiment of human progress, and the fact that an organism lower on the food chain than humanity has attained the ability to handle it shows that this planet that sometimes seems so stagnant is actually changing and evolving constantly in subtle yet weighty ways.