Space Opera and Spirituality

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Yesterday I had a good question from another writer about characters with spirituality in space opera making for something important to the genre — or better stories. I thought about it over the course of the evening, and in context of the discussion with DS9 and Babylon 5.

Deep Space 9 was the first Star Trek to really offer an in depth religion of a race. Though there was the one original series episode that definitely confirmed Jesus Christ was God and savior, most of Star Trek until DS9 proved religion-less, which did give the show one of its more interesting angles overall. Like most Star Trek, the Bajoran “gods” weren’t “gods” but wormhole aliens. The big difference was – they acted like gods in a lot of ways. Sisko being their emissary, even reluctantly (what real prophets aren’t reluctant though?) gave his character a very interesting dimension which other shows lacked, making for a more interesting program overall. The spiritual element played a big part in the show, and because real religion, not mocked, is something a lot of science fiction writers are afraid to touch, it differentiated it.

Babylon 5 was also differentiated. the Narn religion, the Minbari religion, they were all based on the Shadows and Vorlons acting as actual gods over the aeons.The prophets and the like were all real, and all had truth spanning millennia–yet the religions were false in their own way as well once we found what the aliens were truly about. It was presented as something for an intelligent race to grow out of, albeit subtly. Still, when monks or pastors arrived, they were mentioned and treated as what they were — as real people, and their convictions were presented as true and not in a biased way like we usually see on TV, this made for better storytelling as well, and gave another reason to connect with the show.

Sheridan/Sinclair in B5 also had almost a prophet-status by the end of the show. It was a little different, however. Some people took them as saviors, but really the men were about a sacred purpose for the human race, and living purpose was what made them appealing characters.

Living purpose is what’s important to focus on. Everyone has a sacred purpose, whether they realize it or not. When you do realize it, and live toward it, your life becomes far more fulfilling and rewarding. Likewise a character living such a purpose will become easier to attach to, because it triggers something in us we desire to have, or desire to execute. When it’s presented heroically and accomplished over heavy odds, it serves to inspire us.

In The Stars Entwined, I don’t focus so much on religion. Sean is really just your standard guy thrust into a job in over his head. He’s lost to purpose at the beginning of the book, but by the end, he starts to find it. It’ll become more clear over the next couple of books as well. The Aryshans talk about Overseers and stormwraiths in passing, which stem from their world and their mythology, but I don’t go further into that as we’re mostly focused on one military ship over the course of this novel. Both the main characters have very clear purposes though from the Aryshans, and those make them into more dynamic characters.

In Justified, which will be my next released novel, I have a very spiritual sacred purpose for Drin, the main character.

Which one works better? I think having that purpose is what’s important in a story, and the specifics give variety in storytelling. Making sure your religiosity feels real, whether it’s personal religiosity in what someone wants to accomplish in life, or someone following a god via their actions, will help to create epic tension throughout the storytelling, and is necessary for space opera. Connect with a purpose, and make your character serve a purpose that feels worthwhile, and you’ll have a better work.

The Stars Entwined is out March 20th, and you can check it out here.  

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2 thoughts on “Space Opera and Spirituality

  1. Religion plays an yuuge part in my stories.

    While raised as a nominal Christian, by 11 I thought it all bullshit; at 29, I was badgering the other engineer in my cube – in his late 50s – about God & well… everything. He answered what he could. I started buying & reading. About 80 books.

    Converted. Never looked back, even when God called my folks home in their 50s, gave my wife cancer – twice – and made me a mule.

    My kid’s book, Henge’s Big Day! is overtly Christian. In my other works, it’s there, but never something I push. I’ll say, “…a quick blessing before dinner…” but I don’t dwell on it; if it’s seamless in my life, it should be seamless in my characters.

    My books, like yours, Jon, are there for readers to marvel & ponder. And pay for. If I can bring someone across the Tiber while I do it, so much the better!

  2. Religion is something that needs to be brought up more in SF, and intelligently. If it is part of the plot, and not hitting the readers over the head with it great, but it also needs to just be part of the setting.

    People are largely religious. Even many of the ones who say they aren’t have something else in their lives that acts in a religious capacity for them.

    It is also something I’ve tried to incorporate into my own SF writing.

    In my first published novel the protagonist grows up in a communist ‘utopia’ where religion is absolutely forbidden, to the point that she doesn’t even recognize faith as a word.

    Gradually over the book – and the next few, which aren’t published yet – she learns more about religion, but as part of her learning about live outside her insular upbringing, not as the focus.

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