Thursday, February 07, 2019

"Judas" (1967)

By the title of John Brunner's story it's apparent it's another from the Dangerous Visions collection edited by Harlan Ellison that looks to religion for its dangerousness (as opposed to just danger). It also works a familiar Pygmalion theme. Humans build robots that are superior in every way and go on to declare themselves gods. Humans respond by worshiping them. TV's Battlestar Galactica had a lot of this. Take the robotics out and the story even looks forward a little to The Planet of the Apes. Brunner is a transitional British science fiction writer, starting up in the '50s with Golden Age influences but slipping into New Wave themes in the '60s. His beat was more or less environmental dystopia, and he also had a literary bent. Ellison mentions Brunner's "straight novels" and Wikipedia talks about the influence of John Dos Passos. So "Judas" is well-written, that devastating insult. But it doesn't feel very inspired. But let's look again for a minute at the impulse to religiosity. It might be easy to forget that my distance from it puts me in a tiny minority in the world even today. Most people on this planet believe strongly in higher powers intervening regularly in all our daily affairs. I would not classify myself as outright nonbeliever, but at best I'm tepid. So maybe the insistence on religion by all these science fiction writers in 1967 is more on the order of a warning from them to us, a reminder to their natural audience that religion is an element of danger, if not the danger itself. I'm more open to that idea now, in this day and age, 50 years on. I'm not always so sure of the insights but I appreciate they could be signaling through flames. Brunner's vision of a robot-worshiping religion most obviously apes Christianity. In fact, I thought it was Christianity at first, but the details are off. Instead of a cross, for example, the primary iconic symbol is a wheel. That subtly nagging disharmony with Christianity is probably the best element about this story, which involves a confrontation between a human and robot god and which is so overdetermined it has no space to breathe. As well-written as it is, it's equally suffocating.

Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison

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