Religion and Soul in Science Fiction and Horror

The curator tried to solve the mystery.  Of her flesh’s coolness.  “The soul,” he explained, “is a complex thing, a thing of more than a single aspect.  Its z’etoile, over all — its ‘star of guidance’ — in some ways determines its other parts’ workings.  Its will, its psyche, those things that make it unique, that is, the person whose soul it is part of.  For the body, also, is part of a person.   

    ”Its animus, that which inhabits the flesh and gives to it motion.  And halts its corruption.  These are other portions as well, all held together in delicate balance.  When one is living, held, too, with the body.” 

    ”And when one is dead?” a listener questioned.

    ”And when one dies, that balance is broken.  A ‘glue,’ if you like, has released its hold on these parts, letting all go their ways — some all at once, some lingering for some time.  Some leaving, perhaps, never, as in those cases the Ancients called ‘hauntings’ in legends that have come down over the ages.  Yet this is no ghost-soul — “

(From “The Ice Maiden,” THE TEARS OF ISIS, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, 2013)

In my “Tombs” series of shared-universe, far-future stories of which “The Ice Maiden” is an example, I have yet to depict an actual full-blown religion, with ceremonies, temples, etc., but I have had characters often relate to a set of shared beliefs in spiritual matters — of what is the soul made?  what becomes of one after death?  etc. — from which a religion might be constructed.  Other descriptions come up, e.g., in “The Walking” and “There Was an Old Man” in my DARKER LOVES:  TALES OF MYSTERY AND REGRET, as well as “Raising the Dead,” published this spring in the White Cat Publications anthology AIRSHIPS & AUTOMATONS.  Thus in “The Ice Maiden” the title character’s z’etoile, for instance, has placed her into a sort of stasis, body and soulimages, until her fated lover, Caldera, arrives to join her even if thousands of years too late.

Not all of these stories hinge on these beliefs, as the three I cite do, but they’re still in the background, a part of the (hopefully) rich, complex setting that becomes the common theme of the series.  So, too, any horror story that includes characters existing after their Earthly deaths — zombies, ghosts, vampires — also implies a set of beliefs which, even if not a part of the foreground, suggests a society in which religion or spirituality plays a role in the way people think.

So why bring this up?  As it happens, today’s email included a piece by Michael W. Clune on “Five Books About Imaginary Religions,”on TOR.COM, in which it is noted:  Speculative fiction writers can’t look away.  If technology represents humanity’s transcendence through reason, religion implies its eternal submission to mystical entities. . . .  [O]ften anti-science, they attract charlatans, they prey on ignorance — and yet there’s usually a kernel of real mystery at their heart, and the workings of the religion are often the coolest things about a book.  Perhaps it’s no surprise.  After all, sci-fi and fantasy writers create entire worlds; many of them feel that no imaginary world would be complete without an imaginary religion.

And so, in the spirit of Monday’s entry on economics just below, about something else I think is important to be aware of in a story’s background, one may (or not, as one’s taste dictates) click here.  But if so, be sure to read the comments too for other titles beyond the first five.


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