From 9. Image copyright Focus Features
Wil McCarthy posted an interesting article today on SciFi Wire asking whether mysticism is replacing science in science fiction. He focuses mostly on 9 and 2012 (though the latter barely seems like science fiction anyway), but the point could easily be made from a host of other recent offerings, especially SciFi’s own Battlestar Galactica. McCarthy seems to think this is a bad thing, and I admit some of his points are good, for instance:
[I]t’s more than a little annoying to see Roland Emmerich  at it again, with bright people like Tim Burton  following close behind, pushing the opinion that our civilization went horribly wrong at the Industrial Revolution, and the only way to restore its balance is to retreat all the way to the Middle Ages, or even the Bronze Age.
Science is the cause of all our woes and the solution to none! Only mysticism can save us! Emmerich can’t be dumb enough to believe this himself, or he’d be holed up in a Tibetan monastery, not flitting between luxury homes in L.A., N.Y.C, Stuttgart and London. Bronze-age technology could not feed seven billion people, so who gets to decide who lives and dies?
Of course, he is right that science is not our enemy, but neither is it our savior. For the most part, I welcome this renewed interest in mysticism, and science fiction’s growing recognition that science alone cannot solve all our problems. It was precisely its willingness to engage with such religious ideas that made Battlestar so interesting, and maddening, and continues to add depth to LOST and other recent science fiction. Thus, to me, the “mystical” aspects McCarthy notes in 9 (and to a lesser degree, 2012) make them more appealing rather than less. I want to see a mature science fiction that acknowledges the existence of the soul.
More than this, with many of the commenters over on his article, I have to laugh that McCarthy is bemoaning a shift from science to mysticism in the official magazine of the newly renamed “SyFy” channel, which has itself been steadily replacing its strict science fiction with garbage like Ghost Hunters and low-budget horror films. Seriously?
Religious themes are not the problem, ill-considered dichotomies between “science” and “mysticism” are, whether they appear in the latest blockbuster, or magazine editorials.