Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Worlds of Meaning

I read quite a lot, and very little of it is considered "scholarly" or "Christian."  My old standbys are either:
a) full of wizards and magic
b) full of spaceships and future-tech.

Almost none of my favorite stories are based on this planet; I prefer to imagine worlds beyond this one.  Probably the best illustration of this penchant of mine is my shelf of books by Jack L. Chalker.  The Well World books by Chalker center on an artificial planet with 1500 constructed hexagonal biospheres, all wildly different from each other.  Some contain carbon based life forms, some life forms are sentient noble gasses.  The civilization that created these biospheres would eventually transplant the lifeforms from their hexagon to a planet terraformed to match.  

I first read these books when I was a teenager, and I was stunned by the imaginative possibilities.  More than that, however, I was challenged by the implicit moral of these tales: life does not have to look like you to be valuable.  Sci-fi repeats this story often; Star Trek:TNG did it in "Home Soil", and Battlestar Galactica explored this with the conflict between Humans and Cylons.  Jack L. Chalker and his Well World books are probably the reason why I firmly believe that the universe is full of other planets that contain living creatures.  I just don't think that any of them will look like us, act like us, communicate like us, or experience reality like us.  Why should they?  

Of course, what any good science fiction story does is to eventually turn your eyes from the heavens back towards this earthly existence.  I, as of yet, do not have to grapple with the differing lives of aliens.  What I do have to grapple with is a world full of humans whose lives are categorically different than my own.  Sometimes this difference is about preference: I just don’t get the obsession with or enjoyment of baseball.  I’m not opposed or derogatory, I just don’t care.  Sometimes this difference is about privilege: the social power I have as a white, cis-gendered woman creates an entirely different reality than one experienced by a trans-person of color.  We live on the same planet, but our lives are so different they might as well be biospheres on Well World. 

The work of Chalker and Asimov and Roddenberry and Herbert and LeGuin, push me to the edges of my hexagon of existence and force me to look over.  Sometimes, they even hand me a sledgehammer and command me to break down that which separates me from my neighbor.  But they are not the only voices that remind me: Life doesn’t have to look like you to have value.  God, in scripture, sings the same song to me:   “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Welcome the stranger, for you too were once a stranger in a strange land.”

This business of life seems to be one long awakening to the intricacies and difficulties of all the worlds within this one world I live upon.  I have always been treading in and out of alien places, I just didn’t realize that it was happening every time I held out my hand and engaged the stranger in front of me.  To quote Jean-Luc Picard, perhaps this is the goal of every life, the purpose of all our days: to explore strange new places, new civilizations.  Except we don’t need spaceships to do it; we just need eyes open to the people around us, hearts tender to the differences between us, soul awakened to our common human bonds. 

What worlds surround you?  What life have you forgotten to value?  What will you discover tomorrow?  Happy voyage, my friend, whether you head to the stars or merely your neighbors’ front door.

1 comment:

Gayle Lintz said...

If that's what I can learn from Science Fiction, maybe I should be reading more of it.