Christmas Sci Fi
I have been asked whether there any Christmas science fiction stories? Stories like IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE or A CHRISTMAS CAROL perhaps count as fantasy, and, of course DIE HARD is a heartwarming story celebrating the true meaning of Christ’s birth, but how many science fiction tales are there?
Let us not count parodies or humor stories merely set in a science fiction background, but stories with some real science fiction elements in them. Like SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS.
I think this above is a picture of a Martian. Note the antennae. Or a member of the rock group, The Who.
We should perhaps also not count the STAR WARS Christmas Special, which took place in a galaxy far, far away and long, long ago, presumably before the Savior’s birth. At lightspeed, the light from the Star of Bethlehem will not reach there for millions of years.
And, as we know from a short story by Arthur C Clarke, God ruthlessly killed an entirely solar system of intelligent beings in order to ignite the nova seen later on Earth as that star. The bitter curtain line of that story is the rueful thought of the Jesuit character:
Oh God, there were so many stars you could have used. What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?
Mr. Clarke never wrote the obvious sequel to the story, where Lot and his wife flee from that doomed solar system after being warned of an angel, but she turns her longrange scanner back toward the burning planet, and is turned into an asteroid of salt. This is because he is not cool enough to think through the science fiction implications of his premise.
In any case, I do not think ‘The Star’ counts as a Christmas story. On the other hand FUTURAMA has often captured the Christmas spirit in a fashion that can only bring a tear to the eye.
There are several Christmas specials from DOCTOR WHO which take place during the Christmas season, including some that get about as heartwarming as a merely secular story can get, and which actually involve some clever science fictional conceit or time paradox.
The British, due to health and safety regulations, are no longer allowed to worship Christ at Christmas, or make reference to him, but they are required to revere A CHRISTMAS CAROL on the grounds that Charles Dickens is their second most celebrated writer. So despite the regulations, Christmas is allowed in Britain as a shopping season and a time for secular expressions of good will and peace.
Likewise, in STAR TREK, it seems the Federation still allows its subjects to celebrate Christmas parties (Captain Kirk is seen in flashback smooching up a young, pretty psych officer at a Christmas party in ‘Dagger of the Mind’) I would venture to guess no actually Christmas mass is celebrated after Spock shoots and kills God in STAR TREK V. My guess is that the only Christians left in the Alpha Quadrant are on planet 892-IV from the episode ‘Bread and Circuses’, where they are being rounded up for televised gladiatorial games.
While I am sure a quick search of the Internet could turn up any number of specialty anthologies or December issues of Analog containing Christmassy SF, just relying on my memory reveals a shorter list. I can think only of one SF Xmas story I have read.
It was in a copy of BOY’S LIFE, the boy scouting magazine. I neither recall the title, year, or author. The story took place in the future, when mankind all lives in sterilized, domed cities (remember those?), and it was no longer the custom to use real Christmas trees at Christmas. Instead an image made of light was projected from a box, with ornaments and trimmings also being nothing more than light projections. The main character, a boy, nostalgic for the remote past of our current time, pines for a pine tree. The father sorrowfully explains that a tree would not be allowed inside city limits. I remember the father specifically saying that traditions for different times are different, and that the way one generation celebrates Christmas is not meant to be the same for another. But the boy is sad.
I forget by what sleight of hand the father outsmarts the city rules. Perhaps he decorates a pine tree in the woods? Or he sterilizes a tree and brings it in through the dome airlock wrapped in plastic? But he manages, and surprises the boy by displaying a real, living Christmas tree on Christmas day. So the boy is happy.
Now, this is not a complex story, but it does put across two ideas that are central to science fiction: the first is that changes in technology create changes in social norms and customs. The second is an idea equally central, but is either overlooked by most science fiction writers, or else actively opposed, which is that changes in technology do not change human nature.
Human nature includes a delight in nature that is unmoved, or even repelled, by artificial substitutes.
One of the several things a belief in and love of the supernatural does is increase one’s admiration for nature.
If nothing else, looking at the intricacy of nature as a divine handiwork makes one grateful for the gift the creator bestows by crafting the stars to look as they do; or planets and comets in their careers; or the rings of Saturn and his moons like Christmas tree ornaments; or snowy mountain crags; or thunderstorms at sea; stately oaks with crooked limbs;or hawks on the wing; or horses who race with manes like banners flying; or the look of a girl just turning her head to expose the line of her throat and the curve of her cheek; or the laughter of a child ringing; or the shapes of leaves of beech and ash and elm; the whisper of wind in wintery branches; the crash of the surf at the strand; the energetic dance of butterflies in a sunlit meadow; the ungainly speed of the ostrich; the whistle of birds at dawn; the twitch of a rabbit’s nose; the sweetness of honeycombs; the intricate mathematical beauty of crystals and chemicals; the abstract elegance of a noble helium atom.
If all this was merely the product of blind forces, it is certainly amazing, but the amazement is merely within our brains, and has no further meaning. If all of this is handiwork, it was made for you.
It is a gift, just as much as the child God sent to the Virgin on this day to redeem all these things from time and death.
And if it is a gift, then let us give thanks and rejoice, because gratitude is the only thing that makes life not just endurable, but joyful. And science fiction, if written correctly, will tell you that this is as true now as for all time to come.