Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Books for a UU RE Class on Theology in Science Fiction?

There has been wonderful response, (on the blog, in person, and through email) to my post on Theology in Science Fiction, and so I have a challenge for you.  If I were to teach a class on Theology in Science Fiction, what books do you think should be in the course? 

I’ve generic imitrex walmart never done a post like this here at Celestial Lands, asking for short book suggestions… but I’m really interested.  So, UU SciFi fans… what books should be in such a teen and adult Religious Education class? 

Yours in faith,


29 Thoughts on “Books for a UU RE Class on Theology in Science Fiction?

  1. Ender’s Game, for sure. And the Hitchhiker’s Guide (et. al), for a little lighter material.

    If you went more towards fantasy/alternative history I’d go with the entire Earthsea series by Ursula K. LeGuin, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and the Madeleine L’Engle Wrinkle in Time series as well. Other possibilities are The Thief of Always by Clive Barker, and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman — come to think of it, his American Gods is quite wonderful and thought provoking as well, though longer.

    Most of these can be characterized as “young adult” lit, but I’ve enjoyed them even more as an adult.

  2. Oh, I almost forgot! Mary Doria Russel’s books The Sparrow and Children of God are truly amazing examples of theology meets scifi — Catholic missionaries to aliens. But really well written.

  3. In no particular order of preference:

    Harlan Ellison, \”\’Repent Harlequin,\’ Said the Tick-Tock Man\”; \”I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream\” (and, just for yuks, \”The Outpost Undiscovered by Tourists\” — but that\’s just me being a snot). All are short stories.

    Farenheit 451

    The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell

    Contact, by Carl Sagan

    And any of Rod Serling\’s (UU!) work on the Twilight Zone, if you don\’t mind expanding into some good TV. (I\’ve been trying to get a Serling sermon into my preaching calendar for a while. Might get there this year.)

    If you care to cross over into some fantasy, I recommend just about any of Terry Pratchett\’s more recent half dozen Discworld books. Sharpest cultural satire on the planet. I\’m working on my third annual \”Pratchett\’s Gospel\” sermon for this spring.

  4. The first ones that come to mind are Dune and Stranger in a Strange Land. How about Job: A Comedy of Justice to double up on the Heinlein? Lord of Light would fit in too. I’ll have to think of more.

    Loved your previous post, by the way. You were really singing my song.

  5. David,

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment on this.

    There are many books I would be tempted to use but if I had to choose one, it would be “The Dispossessed” by Ursala Le Guin. For me, it provides one of the best “models” of “The Beloved Community.”

    My second choice would be “Ender’s Game.” Although it is found on military service reading lists, it is really an appeal for peace and not war.

    For spirituality, Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End” is by far the best – better even than “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

    Finally, what better thing to use in a UU RE class with a SciFi element than the original “Star Trek” series – not any of the spin-offs. That show taught a lot of lessons that should resonate with UU’s. One could even argue (OK maybe this is silly) that the United Federation of Planets is the realization of the beloved community.


    Tom Beall

  6. Tom…

    That’s not silly… there is a Star Trek Discussion Group at the Unitarian Church of Evanston who believes that with a passion that might surprise you!

    Thank you all! Please keep the suggestions coming! Perhaps we can even produce a Reading List from this…

    Yours in Faith,


  7. Patrick McLaughlin on Wednesday September 9, 2009 at 8:42 +0000 said:

    To much of the already suggested material, I’d add LeGuin’s “Left Hand of Darkness” and “Always Coming Home.” Pullman’s “His Dark Materials,” of course, and Nancy Farmer’s “House of the Scorpion.” Oh, and *absolutely* Robert J. Sawyer’s “Calculating God” and “Factoring Humanity,” as the theological questions there are right out on the table. I’ll echo the recommendation of Gaiman’s “Graveyard Book” and “American Gods,” too.

    My undercaffinated brain’s muttering that there’s something I want to add by Harry Turtledove, but I can’t figure out what it is…

  8. With respect, I wouldn’t discount the other iterations of Star Trek. The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and even Enterprise (which I’m now working through from beginning to end, thanks to HDNet, having missed it almost entirely during its original run) all have episodes relevant to issues of theology, morality, justice and compassion.

    And another book, even though it’s a “children’s” book: “A Wrinkle in Time”.

    Also, did you know that C.S. Lewis wrote a trilogy of SciFi books? I’ve not read them, so I can’t comment on their relevance or quality. But I’ll just throw that out there.

  9. Some ideas for books

    A classic “scientific romance” book, available for free is Olaf Stapledon’s novel “Star Maker”, from the 1930s. A very strange novel, written more like an encyclopedia than a conventional novel, ending up with essentially a mystical vision of God and creation. Please hang in until those last few chapters, as they are astonishing. Stapledon is sometimes listed as a Unitarian, although this appears to be because his mother was a Unitarian. (for link to free version, go to Wikipedia page for this book). He was also an academic philosopher.

    Robert Sawyer’s novel “Calculating God”. A paleontologist is visited by aliens who are mainly visiting Earth to try to find evolutionary evidence for the existence of God. Sawyer is also sometimes listed as Unitarian, again because he was raised by Unitarians.

    Some short stories: Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question”
    Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God”, and his story “The Star”. The Star as well as Nine Billion Names are available free on links from their respective wikipedia pages. Asimov\’s story is available by googling his name and the story title.

    Almost any short story written by Ted Chiang. He deals with some very interesting issues of free will and the nature of the universe. Some stories with significant religious content include: “Hell is the Absence of God”, “Story of Your Life”, “Exhalation”, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”, and “Division by Zero” . Links to free versions of some of his stuff are off of his wikipedia page. He’s an amazing writer: he only has published 11 stories, yet has won 4 Nebula awards and 3 Hugo awards.

    Damon Knight’s 1950s novellas “Rule Golden” and “The Dying Man”. The former explores the implications of what would happen if the golden rule really was a rule. The latter explores the implications of death in a world of immortals.

  10. OK. I thought of some more: Slaughterhouse 5, Number of the Beast, Neuromancer, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion, The Gods Themselves.

    While not originally a book, there must be a war to fit Star Wars in there somewhere.

    This is fun.

  11. I would suggest watching “The Inner Light”, an episode of Star Trek, the Next Generation. Are we all like Picard? – unsure about how we arrived at this reality, but finding meaning in the community around us and in working toward a better future.

  12. I’ll weigh in with a few suggestions – in addition to the already fine possibilities from other commenters.

    Sheri S. Tepper’s “Grass,” “Raising the Stones,” and “The Fresco” would all fit quite well in a UU RE SF Theology class.

    Octavia Butler’s explicitly theological “Parable of the Sower” was actually required reading in a class at seminary. It’s sequel, “Parable of the Talents,” won the awards that Sower deserved. I really liked her last novel, “Fledgling” for the moral and ethical questions it raised – questions she wasn’t quite as explicit about in earlier books.

    James M. Blish – “A Case of Conscience” fits with Mary Doria Russell’s in that the main character is a Jesuit priest among the aliens.

    “Speaker for the Dead” by Orson Scott Card (as is “Ender’s Game”) should be included.

    Here are a couple short story anthologies to round it out: “Perpetual Light” ed. by Alan Ryan, and “Afterlives” ed. by Pamela Sargent and Ian Watson.

    And I didn’t even ask my spouse for any suggestions…

  13. And how could I forget James Morrow???

    Towing Jehovah
    Blameless in Abaddon (a study in theodicy, required reading for a philosophy class I had a few years ago)
    Only Begotten Daughter
    Bible Stories for Adults (short stories)

  14. One more science fiction novel with obvious religious/philosophical overtones:

    Robert Sheckley’s 1968 novel, “Dimension of Miracles”

    If you like Douglas Adams, you’ll like this novel. Very hard to explain. A comic and cosmic quest novel. Our Earthborn hero wins the Galactic lottery, which turns out to be a big mistake. Includes encounters by the “hero” with several Gods, and the guy who built the earth for Jehovah, who explains many of the deficiencies of creation as due to budget constraints.

  15. Well…

    To Reign in Hell by Steven Brust, right off the bat.

    For UU’s I would suggest the social Science Fiction writers: Harry Harrison, Poul Anderson, Keith Laumer, and the like.

    Also Roger Zelazny, of course.

    A lot of it depends on what you want to cover and how you want to cover it. I mean you can even find arguments for the lame (to me) Heroes in Hell series.

    Star Trek is as good as any other form for genere fiction, but I don’t really see it as Science Fiction.

    Also, there is the danger of the lack of Diversity within SF, so reading too deep could be an issue.

  16. Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead of course. Has anyone read Threshold or Emergence by David R. Palmer? Both are out of print but are available online here and there. They resonate with humanist ideas and the highest of human values. Read them. They are a treat!

  17. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any full length novels that haven’t already been named yet. ‘Dune’ would obviously be high on my list. What I would suggest would be considering a selection of some of the best science fiction short stories. Doing so would allow you to assign one or two short stories a week for discussion on a week by week basis.

  18. Well, my first thought was, “hmm science fiction and religion? how many hundred titles do you want?”. But by coincidence, the last two sf books I read not only involved religious concepts from a Unitarian perspective, but had actual Unitarian characters. So they are my recommendations for your class: Frameshift, by Robert J. Sawyer. No wonder, since he was raised Unitarian. And the other is Pacific Edge, by Kim Stanley Robinson. This guy talks just like a UU, even though he doesn’t seem to be one. I think you could pretty much select anything by either of these writers, but those two books would have the added fun of UUism being explicitly mentioned.

  19. The following website provides a list of mentions of UUism or UUs in science fiction:


    and this website provides a list of science fiction writers who are believed to be UU.:


  20. Well, I was poking around in Google Books, and did some searches in books by sf writers I consider likely, and found some mentions not on that list.

    Frederick Pohl
    The Day the Martians Came
    The Cool War
    The Way the Future Was
    Narabedla Ltd.
    Demon in the Skull
    A Plague of Pythons
    Robert J. Sawyer
    End of an Era
    The Golden Fleece
    Ray Bradbury
    Fahrenheit 451
    Driving Blind
    Green Shadows, White Whale
    A Graveyard for Lunatics
    Kurt Vonnegut
    Welcome to the Monkeyhouse
    The Sirens of Tital
    Mother Night
    Kim Stanley Robinson
    Pacific Edge
    Robert Charles Wilson

  21. Terry Pratchett’s NATION is a YA novel that I would consider an excellent choice for such a class. The advantage of using well-written YA is that they are usually shorter works, but just as thought-provoking. This one is Fantasy rather than SF, but Fantasy that really makes you think. Cory Doctorow has a brief review at boingboing.net

    +1 on the ST: TNG “The Inner Light” suggestion and on reading Octavia Butler… I convinced our HUUmanist group to watch “The Inner Light” and to read Butler’s KINDRED, which is a good choice when you have members of a group who are highly interested in race relations, and both led to some interesting discussions.

  22. The Starlight Crystal by Christopher Pike is a slim YA sci fi novel that packs quite an ethical/spiritual punch. Judging my Pike’s other work he is obviously fascinated by Hinduism, and in this novel he obviously researched Native American traditions.

    It’s engaging and easily digestible yet doesn’t insult anyone’s intelligence like some YA fic.

  23. Robert Heinlein’s classic sci fi novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, is right on the mark. It deals with competing theologies, sacrifice, religious community, and much more.

  24. I forgot to mention GALAXY QUEST

  25. Mary Doria Russell and Ursula LeGuin’s books are very theological and can provide hours of reflection for readers. Let’s also include the entire Battlestar Galatica series. This excellent tv series addresses theological issues in just about every episode. Check it out! Science fiction often touches the fuzzy edges of science and theology. Bravo to these imaginative authors and screenwriters who take us to new lands and new possiblities of beloved community.

  26. Star Trek:TNG episode Darmok, *beautifully* acted by Patrick Stewart and Paul Winfield, a multicultural treat!

    Ray Bradbury, the SF master of the short story form (in any genre). I have long wanted to find or create an RE curriculum around his stories.

    BTW, Twilight Zone can make for excellent stories for all ages in worship services. The episodes themselves are available on YouTube, and the text of Serling’s narration for each is available on Wikipedia.

  27. “A Canticle for Leibowitz” would be interesting to have if you are exploring any apocalyptic themes in this discussion. A three act story about the rebuilding of knowledge on Earth after a Nuclear war. A catholic monastic order has tried to preserve knowledge through the generations.

  28. “A Canticle for Leibowitz” reminds me of another: A Stephen Vincent Benet short story called, “By the Waters of Babylon.”


  29. Add to it Susan Palwick’s “A Necessary Beggar” , it is a beautiful novel!

Leave a Reply

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: