Monday, February 27, 2017

Mythical Monday #67 - Mythology in Science Fiction

Art work by: @Burntlaughter on Twitter

It seems there are many books influenced by or based on Myths and Mythological Beings.

There are many different Mythology's and Mythological Beings recorded. Some are very popular and well known, others not so much. There are many similar beings, yet different depending on the culture it’s based in.  The definition of Myth covers about anything in the Urban Fantasy/Fantasy realm to me.

I’ve invited authors to share briefly the Mythological being or Myth that influenced their character(s) or story, or what their character(s) are based on influencing their books.  Hosting here, one author and being or myth per week.

Mythology in Science Fiction

I primarily write science fiction, which – on the surface – does not appear to be based on mythology at all. SF is often thin on religion and spirituality, and appears to be far more linked to engineering than to myth.

But there are a few myths that infuse science fiction. I’ll illustrate how they’ve impacted my work, and I would be interested in what others think about how mythology applies to other SF work. I’ll start off by admitting that the link is slant – I can’t tie my work to myth quite as directly as Patty Briggs or Charles deLint (two of my favorite fantasy writers).

The working title for my first book (a collaboration with Larry Niven titled Building Harlequin’s Moon, actually included the word Myth. We called the manuscript Creation Myth, and the publisher later renamed it. In that book, we literally create a habitat from a moon of a gas giant planet (thus creating an ecosystem on a rather large rock). It takes a mythic amount of time (thousands of years) and of effort and power. We had to bombard the moon with comets. I actually think Creation Myth was a more apt title. Every society has its creation myths, and what might a world created by a travelling starship make of their history?

The opposite of creation, destruction (the apocalypse) is a common myth. We see it in Christianity, and it even infuses out politics (there are stories that Bannon, a Presidential advisor, believes we are close to the end of days). Most societies with creation myths also have destruction myths. In my recent YA novel POST (from eSpec Books), I talk about a time when we are picking ourselves up after a fall. Themes are about rebuilding and persevering, but those would not happen without the original disasters that drove the global economy to its knees before POST starts.

In Wilders, coming out in June from Pyr, I play with the same themes in a very different setting (the timing of the two stories could be considered equivalent, but on different branches of the future as the world building for each is very different). The world in Wilders has a massive land re-allocation in its past, where most people were scooped into cities and most land into “rewilding” projects. All does not go well. Again, the apocalypse does not solve our problems.

Myths don’t have to come from the far past. I think we have a current social myth that robots are going to take over the world. While it’s not historical, it’s pervasive, and may or may not be wrong. Since I’m not sure, I write about it a lot. It’s a main theme for the linked novels Edge of Dark and Spear of Light, and also for a lot of my stories, including a favorite of mine, “The Robot’s Girl.”

And then there is the great technology myth of the singularity. No one quite knows what it is (except maybe Ray Kurzweil and Vernor Vinge), or even whether or not it’s a good thing. But it’s also a cornerstone idea in Edge and Spear. Books praising the singularity are common, and so are stories about how it might not solve all of our problems (or might not solve any of our problems).

A last comment that I’ll make is that we probably ought to address mythology more in science fiction. UFOs are a myth (or not). The pyramids may have been built by aliens (or not). We may emerge from our caves and our tribes and our towns and our cities and become members of an intergalactic society, although whether or not we’re welcomed there may depend on how well we do with the globalization that is vexing us so much now. And some of growing up is adopting current mythology. Are we kind and capable or are we insane and dangerous?

About the Author:
Brenda Cooper writes science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories, and sometimes, poetry. Her most recent novel is Spear of Darkness, from Pyr and her most recent story collection is Cracking the Sky from Fairwood Press. Brenda is a technology professional and a futurist, and publishes non-fiction on the environment and the future. Her non-fiction has appeared on Slate and Crosscut and her short fiction has appeared in Nature Magazine, among other venues.

See her website at

Brenda lives in the Pacific Northwest in a household with three people, three dogs, far more than three computers, and only one TV in it.

Purchase the Books:


Blodeuedd said...

Myth in I have not thought about it, but it does make it interesting

Greg said...

I've had Wilders on my radar so it was nice to see this post! Mythology and SF- two of my favorite things. :)

Anonymous said...

Ooo... I love the look of these - Wilders in particular, is very interesting. Thank you for sharing this.

Brenda Cooper said...

Thanks. Mine, too. Both have a sense of awe to them at least when down right.