Folks, the sad truth of today is that traditional science fiction—the space opera—is dying. For over 200 years, the imaginations of men like H.G. Wells, Frank Herbert, George Lucas, and Gene Roddenberry have been supplying us with hopes of alien races, light-sabers, faster-than-light travel, jet packs, and meals in pill-form. Some hopes have been realized, and we find ourselves operating handheld computers that are smaller that Star Trek tricorders and they’ve arrived about 250 years early. For the greatest part, however, we aren’t living in a technological utopia, and what devices we have invented aren’t taking us in the direction we were anticipating. We’re exploring microscopic organisms instead of some macrocosm and digging into the lives of our neighbors instead of boring tunnels through the center of the earth. On the other hand, we did happen to miss out on the predicted 1992 eugenics war between ourselves and our genetically enhanced cousins, so it isn’t all bad news.
If the terminology sticklers will grant me a bit of leeway, the term “space opera” is a mostly forgotten term that was used to describe those grand, planetary stories that gave very little importance to the hard physics of things like space travel and teleportation. The likes of Star Wars, Star Trek, Dune, and Battlestar Galactica are what are in view here. These storylines had their heyday from the dawn of the atomic age, until recently. While these big budget plotlines still make it to the screen, at some point in the last decade, people just stopped reading so much science fiction.
Most professionals with any vested interest in speculative fiction have attributed the decline of science fiction to the dawning distance between reality and the future that those stories promised. When the year 2000 came and went without so much as a jetpack, science fiction began to show signs of the sniffles. A decade later, the science fiction section is being swallowed by greater amounts of fantasy, alongside the paranormal romance novels which have finally been pulled out of the horror section, urban fantasy, and the growing collection of steampunk. Science fiction is taking its last breaths, while other genres are just learning to walk.
The hope for scientific, digital, genetic, electronic, and cybernetic innovation has been replaced in urban fantasy with magical means, and in steampunk, with the admittedly impossible mad scientist creations that kicked science fiction off in the first place.
In the end, it’s all about where we place our hope.
The early Christians saw a greater, grander version of the same thing we’re seeing now in 10-point Times New Roman. They read the same prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah that we read today. They mined those scriptures for every ounce of worth they could find. They established an immense and detailed eschatology (the study of end times) based on how they saw the words of David and Daniel being fulfilled. The Messiah was coming. He would be a King to end all Kings, a Lord to end all other Lordships. He would unify the Jewish nation and drop an iron fist on the Iron Empire. In a single stroke, he would set himself as the Ruler of the planet and her nations. Then the Jews would stand at his side as he looked over the horizon with golden flaming eyes.
They got a baby in a barn who grew up to train twelve guys and then he died.
I imagine as they watched this would-be King breathe his last breath, the Jewish disciples of Jesus were wondering where their jetpacks were, theologically speaking. They had been promised the stars and instead, were left with only a dry-rotting pair of sandals.
Oh, and a hole in the ground.
This grown-up barn-baby’s empty grave was a promise for something new, and the disappointed disciples went back to their roots. This Jesus hadn’t missed their expectations. Their expectations had been fictitious. And just as some of these new genres are finding many fans more ravenous and rabid than the space opera ever saw, Christ has promised that his second coming won’t be a step down from our original guesses. In fact, in the same manner that many steampunks are turning back to Wells, Verne and Poe, the disciples’ theological disappointment drove them, and us, back to reality and a less baggage-laden view of our Messiah.
Jeremy McNabb is a steampunk author, youth director, and speaker. His novel Joy & Carnage, and steampunk novellas, Gravesight and City Sidewalks are both available on the Amazon Kindle. New releases are announced on his Facebook page and Twitter account.