Why is the military a dominant presence in many stories of space exploration?
This was a question discussed at a panel at Dragon Con a few years ago -- and in the end, we boiled the explanation down to history and practicality. The military is often featured in science fiction because, in the real world, our earliest astronauts were pulled from the armed forces -- and our earliest astronauts were pulled from the armed forces because they already had the training and emotional wiring required to undertake those crazy-dangerous first missions.
Space is perilous and unforgiving; consequently, anyone in the vanguard of, say, a colonization effort would have to have either an above-average love of risk or a personal ethic that places certain greater goods above the instinct for self-preservation. Pioneer groups would also have to be highly disciplined and tightly-knit to overcome the initial challenges presented by a new world; in an environment that could kill the inattentive, it would hardly do to waste time bickering. Considering these specifications, the military is a natural fit.
But is the military the only extant organization that can handle the challenges outlined above? Are there other groups that fit the same bill? Indeed yes! Self-abnegation, discipline and unity of purpose are also the key identifying features of monastic orders. Is it any wonder, then, that since that panel, I've been harboring a strong desire to see monks and nuns in space?
When a conversation at CPAC reminded me of the aforementioned desire a few months ago, I published a general request for works that combine science-fictional ideas with religious traditionalism -- and that is how Karina and Robert Fabian's Infinite Space, Infinite God came to my attention. Infinite Space is an anthology of science fiction stories that specifically tackle Catholic themes; if, like me, you are fascinated by that particular juxtaposition, you should give Infinite Space a try.
I will be honest, though: not all of the stories in this collection impressed me equally. Some of the selections felt clunky and amateur, either because they failed to convey the necessary background information in a graceful manner or because their messages overwhelmed other critical elements of storytelling, which is a sin even when my side does it (see also: my previous post). At the same time, however, this anthology also contains many stories that are absolutely wonderful and wholly worthy. I immediately connected to the missionaries and the world depicted in Colleen Drippe's Brother John, for instance -- and Our Daily Bread (by Karina and Robert Fabian) depicts a Eucharistic miracle in an admirably balanced way and is neither maudlin nor heavy-handed.
When I discussed this anthology with my father the other day, he reminded me of Sturgeon's Law: "Ninety percent of anything is crap." Well, Infinite Space, even with its flaws, still beats these odds by a comfortable margin. That makes it a pretty good collection on the whole -- even if there's still room for improvement.
Final Verdict: Recommended, But With Notes.