HUMAN DECISION REQUIRED
Some personal notes on Space: 1999
by Erkki Rautio
A Spy in the House of God
Maybe in order to be able to appreciate Space: 1999's unusual qualities to their fullest we should take a trip back to science fiction genre's own criticism to decipher better those mystical and (quasi-?) religious elements already discussed here.
In his article for the Finnish science fiction magazine Portti (2/1988), Jukka Nyman divides the history of science fiction literature to three separate periods. According to Nyman, in the period starting in the late 19th century and lasting until the end of World War II, the common tendency is very anti-religious and pro-science. One of the writers representative of this period is, for example, H.G. Wells, in whose short story, "The Lord of the Dynamos", a machine will ascend to the role traditionally belonging to God.
However, after the year 1945, science fiction's relationship towards religion turns to more contemplative and less hostile. According to the sci-fi writer James Blish, the growing interest towards the religious themes raises from the new threat caused to the humanity by atom bomb; the relationship towards science becomes more ambivalent, thus widening the range of thinking. Whereas the pre-WWII era of science fiction could well be called purely atheist, here we can see a turn towards uncertainty, which, then, could be called agnosticism. As an example of this development, Jukka Nyman mentions the Riverworld series of Philip José Farmer, which deals with the particular topics of life after death and reincarnation but leaves the very question of God eventually open.
The third period, according to Nyman, starts in the 1960s, simultaneously with the breakthrough of the so called New Wave of Science Fiction, represented by such as Michael Moorcock, specific to which is the new kind of approach towards the myth. Mythical/religious thinking is not condemned nor explained any more but the unexplained elements of it are now accepted as they are. The scientific approach towards the basic questions of humanity had proven insufficient, and the goal of New Wave sci-fi writers was to bring a more humane point of view to science fiction, with more liberal relations towards religious ideas.
Jukka Nyman claims that the ideas of the third period of science fiction are best crystallized in the works of a writer called Michael Bishop whose religion-themed stories have been published in the collection Close Encounters with the Deity (1986), leaving behind the technological culture and immersing in the mystery; being actual science fiction maybe only marginally, but very thought-provoking nevertheless. In Bishop's short story bearing the same title as the collection (also 1986), a spacecraft is speeding into a black hole, and the new creation may be caused by the unexplained event. Bishop combines his tale to the medieval mysticism of Juliana of Norwich:"I have seen God in a point," (the black hole thematics bringing in mind both 2001 and, of course, "Black Sun" episode of S99).
The key short story to the mysticism of Bishop, Jukka Nyman continues, however, is "A Spy in the Domain of Arnheim" (1981): a man who has lost his identity has ended up in a strange hotel room in a strange land, and is furiously pondering whether he is a spy or just a tourist. The gramophone on the table is giving him instructions: One doesn't have to talk about the mystery, one has to surrender oneself to it. One does not have to accept the mediocrity that searches for the significances. Essential to Bishop's mysticism, says Nyman, is that he doesn't want to talk about God in a straightforward way: "Looking for significances abstracts you from (unintelligible) that alone redeem the universe." In the words of Jukka Nyman:
The explanatory natural science searching for the external knowledge has come to the end of its safe road, it is time for the mystery. The tourist/spy comparison will put the idea in a nutshell. The man of mystery is compared to a tourist who gazes in amazement though he doesn't comprehend what it is all about - instead a spy, that creature of stealth, tries to understand everything, though it would be none of his business. "Perception before, or maybe even versus, understanding" is Bishop's advice, with the axiom: "Be a tourist first, a spy only in the second place." [Translation by ER.]
Perhaps this short detour to literary criticism also provides some food for thought for those too critically trying to dissect Space: 1999 and trying to understand the series in the ways of the first or second periods of science fiction, instead of the more fruitful approach offered by the third period here?