Science fiction and spirituality: Red Desert

Many months ago I talked about the role of religion and spirituality in the mediafranchise of Battlestar Galactica. From this topic I would like to introduce the role of religion in my Mars series Red Desert.

In reality the link with Battlestar Galactica comes from a small anecdote, which concerns the origin of the names of the two NASA missions appearing in the story: Isis and Hera. The first simply comes from a goddess of ancient Egypt (and here we are already in the religious theme). Being an egyptophile, I like to put these elements in my stories. The second mission takes its name once again from a goddess, i.e. the wife of Zeus. By choosing this name, however, since I am a nerd, instead of going to look for a list of Greek-Roman deities, I decided to have a look to those of Battlestar Galactica! Moreover, the choice then fell on Hera, not so much because it is a goddess, but because it is a character in the saga (Hera Agathon). Only later I found out that, within the religion of Battlestar Galactica, Isis and Hera are considered as sister deities, moreover (and I didn’t remember it) the two names are given to the character I mentioned at different times of the series.

But let’s talk about those which are actually religious elements in “Red Desert.

The most obvious is undoubtedly the inclusion in the story of a Muslim character (Hassan), while our protagonist, Anna, is characterised by an ill-concealed intolerance towards men of Middle Eastern origin. Although her prejudice has personal origins (his father is Middle Eastern), it has as sole discriminating element its religious aspect, because the only thing that differentiates the two characters is their religion, since they belong to the same ethnic group. However, the inclusion of this subplot serves two purposes.
The first is to create conflict between the two characters, which causes the mistrust and doubts of Anna against Hassan. Anna, however, far from terrestrial conventions realises that her prejudices don’t have a rational basis and will see them slowly be removed by Hassan. Despite this, she still fails to get rid of them, or at least this process is expected to take place slowly throughout story.
The second purpose of this topic, however, is to make the reader identify in the characters, promoting the suspension of disbelief. This is possible because, given the current events, in the Western world there is an ambivalence of feelings against Islam and Muslims: suspicion but also curiosity. This ambivalence is even greater in Anna. The Islam is her cultural identity, which was denied to her, and Hassan is the only one from whom she can draw it.
Hence her contempt and at the same time interest for him.

The character of Anna, moreover, by her own admission has no faith, but she is also intrigued by the concept of faith, because she sees it as something that hypothetically could give meaning to her uncertain existence. Anna is a very unconfident woman in front of events and choices; she feels she needs a fixed point in her life. Her weakness stems from the need to show the world that the very fact she was born was not a mistake. In this psychological condition, amplified by the events she is experiencing, she looks to Hassan’s faith with curiosity mixed with suspicion.
This topic, which is the relationship of Anna with Islam and faith in general, is already introduced in “Point of No Return” and analysed in “People of Mars”, but you find it again in “Invisible Enemy” and “Back Home”.

In these last two books emerge, however, two other topics that have to do with religion.
One of these is the theme of the couple that we see in the community of Ophir. Each person in this community has a companion; it can be a husband or a wife, but also a brother or sister, in the case of children. The importance of the couple is particularly analysed in “Back Home” and, speaking about this theme, I admit that once again I took inspiration from ancient Egypt. Here the couple formed by Pharaoh and his Great Royal Wife had a very important role in both political and religious scopes. It was essential that the Two Lands were ruled by a couple and not a single person. These couples had a reason to exist that was more ritual than personal. In this context it was not unusual that the Great Royal Wife was a sister or a daughter of Pharaoh, without this necessarily implying any relationship of a sexual nature between the two (there were secondary wives for this purpose). Often the Pharaoh was too young and so his Wife ruled the country. Or the widowed Wife appointed the new Pharaoh. The important thing is that in one way or another there must be two of them to get the favour of the gods.
This topic, namely the need to be in two, is also found in “Red Desert” and is an important subplot of “Back Home.

There is also a final topic, but, even if I should simply mention it, it would become a big spoiler for those who have not yet read the third book. In itself it is not religious, but spiritual. It regards the consciousness, whose religious counterpart is nothing more than the soul, but in the story it is dealt with in an almost scientific fashion. Among other things, it is a very common theme in science fiction, both classical and contemporary one. I cannot say any more, but those who have read “Invisible Enemy” have certainly understood what I mean.