Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hey, you got your AI in my dogma . . .

Should you wish to grapple with the interplay between science and religion, in the words of Tony Soprano, "you got options." You could TiVo "Faith and Reason" on PBS, ponder some Betrand Russell and G.K. Chesterton (which – like duct tape and a universal remote – no home should be without), or crack open Dan Ronco's Unholy Domain. I've gone with door number three, and I've gotta say, it ain't half bad.

Unholy Domain opens in a dystopian, not-so-distant future, in which the world's political and economic systems are gimping along in the wake of the PeaceMaker, a mess-you-up-like-bad-chicken computer virus. It appears that this piece of sunshine was unleashed, for reasons unknown, by the ubertalented and correspondingly erratic programmer Ray Brown, essentially taking down Teh Interweb. As a result of the devastation wrought by PeaceMaker, the federal government has banned all but the most miniscule advances in technology and devolved into corruption and incompetence. *cough, cough *

Against this backdrop we find the Church of the Natural Humans, a sect of anti-technology nuts whose vestments include shoulder-holstered gats and whose theology puts the Luddites to shame, locked in a clandestine war with The Domain, a cabal of black market tech peddlers (imagine the Illuminati recruiting at MIT and bringing on some temps from Blackwater) to be Lords of All We Survey.

Cut to college student David Brown, whom we accompany on his quest to discover the truth about his father Ray and the PeaceMaker virus. What follows is a fast paced techno-thriller that would fit well between a beach chair and cooler of Red Stripe. Some of the prose is somewhat clunky, but Ronco does a great job of drawing out relationships between his characters that seem more fully developed than most genre authors tend to produce. Moreover, the fundamental questions raised by Ronco about the roles of science and religion in the arc of human development are ones worth considering, even if it's while sitting on the beach with a bronson. Perhaps especially then.

If Dan Simmons' Endymion got you all freaky and hot in the ass, what with its time travellin' spikey robot, the AI TechnoCore and the Galactic Catholics, then Unholy Domain will be right up your alley. On the other hand, if you like your discourse to be more elevated, then go get a Mother Jones. And put the beer away.


Tripp said...

Riddle me this, which science fiction novel best tackles the question of religion and society?

Brack said...

Hmm. Probably one I haven't yet read, but should have, like Out of the Silent Plant by CS Lewis.

Whether it's sci fi or spec fic, Cormac McCarthy's The Road does a great job of stripping away both religion and society to examine the first principles of faith and humanity. It gets my vote.

Other thought provoking tomes are The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, which starts off as a recasting of the Count of Monte Cristo but ends up in a place more spiritual, and Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, which definitely comes at the question from the Hitchens side of things.

Brack said...

. . . Silent Planet. With an "E". I suppose plants are usually silent, unless they are a grunge band from Seattle featured on the Singles soundtrack.

Tripp said...

Good call on the Road. It is, on one level, an argument against the sin of despair.

Aside from religious themes, I also like religions in space, and I think that Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow is an excellent choice in that regard.