Growing up watching Star Trek reruns, William Katerberg has long had in interest in science fiction. “I clearly remember imagining myself in the stories I read and incorporating those stories into my play,” he writes in Future West. “I was Captain Kirk, [and] my science braniac cousin played Mr. Spock.”
That interest runs deeper than just the thrill of being entertained by exciting worlds outside of his own. Even now, several decades later, Katerberg continues to enjoy science fiction and envision himself in the story, comparing the world depicted in a novel or film to the one in which we live. In fact, it is this speculation that led Katerberg to research and write his new book.
“Most people think of science fiction as a way of getting away from reality,” said Katerberg. “I see it much more as an exploration of the way the world is and where it is going. I think a fundamental question that people should ask is ‘where is the world heading and where should it be heading?’”
Utopian and dystopian science fiction provides an opportunity to rethink that question. “It envisions the way things may be,” he said. “Through it we can see our world’s problems today—environmental, political, social, spiritual—with greater clarity and rethink what will happen if these problems get worse or dream about how they might get better. Science fiction gives us a viewpoint as if from the outside.”
In Future West Katerberg juxtaposes science fiction set in the American West with mythic stories of the frontier past. In these mythic stories, “the manifest destiny of Americans on the Western frontier promises to transform the world with America at the leading edge of human progress.” However, as the new western historians and novelists like Douglas Coupland have suggested, “the American West has not solved humanity’s problem but exemplified them.”
The novels and a few films that Katerberg examines depict an America in the future that is no longer a New World society but aging. Besides entertaining us, “novels and films like these have the potential to lead people to envision things about their lives and the world that they cannot easily engage in other ways,” Katerberg writes.
Most science fiction is dystopian, “because it’s easier to imagine a world gone bad than it is to imagine something rich and compelling about a world significantly better than our own,” Katerberg explained. “Perhaps our imaginations are impoverished.” But we should not give up hope. In fact, quite the opposite is true. “Changing reality starts with envisioning and desiring a better world,” he said. Apocalyptic and utopian visions in science fiction echo biblical visions of judgment day and the heavenly kingdom.
Katerberg wrote Future West to “intrigue both readers who would call themselves religious or spiritual and readers who would call themselves secular,” he said. “Both will see that science fiction is defined most deeply by its spiritual yearnings.”
With the advent of new biotechnologies and the environmental changes that will lead to significant social and political changes in coming decades, a challenging future is heading toward us. “How sad and ultimately impractical it is to say we have to accept reality as it is,” said Katerberg. “Such despair is profoundly unchristian. My upbringing in the Reformed tradition and my democratic impulse press me to refuse the world as it is and to live otherwise.”
Katerberg previously authored The Future of Hope (Eerdmans, 2004) with co-editor Miroslav Volf. His next book is a co-authored textbook, Conquests & Consequences: The American West from Frontier to Region, to be published in August 2009 by Harlan Davidson.
The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth by Davis Young, Calvin geology professor emeritus, and Ralph Stearley, Calvin geology professor
Is the Earth relatively young or very old? By thoroughly examining historical, biblical, geological and philosophical perspectives, the illustrated Bible, Rocks and Time takes a comprehensive and authoritative look at the key issues related to the Earth’s antiquity.
This book addresses what happens when the role of mom seems to consume women, especially when others see them as a mom and little else. The author shows readers how God still wants to use them in a way that lets their gifts, passions and personality shine.
In The Law of Kindness, Mary Beeke examines the idea of kindness, shows how it is developed, and gives helpful advice for putting it into action, with specific chapters addressed to wives, husbands, parents, teachers and children.
Giving to Calvin
Majors & Minors
People at Calvin