The Left Behind books (and movies) are one of the most popular edge-cases in the science fiction world. They're shunned by many SF fans as too cheesily religious, yet embraced by zillions of Christians who made this many-volumed tale of the Rapture and Armageddon into bestsellers. They're an odd anomaly hovering between great apocalypse scifi and Great Apocalypse from The Bible. Left Behind the movie is actually pretty good B-movie scifi fare, and you can see in our clip that the spooky Rapture scene on a plane feels pretty much like the opening of an alien abduction flick. Plus, Left Behind is only one of many other stories where the work of angels looks basically like the work of aliens. We've got a list of five kickass alien angels for you right here.
- Say what you will about the meh movie version of comic book Constantine, but Tilda Swinton's awe-inspiring depiction of the fallen angel Gabriel makes up for Keanu Reeves' mumbles. This androgynous angel is more like a beautified version of Predator than a fluttery creature you read about in Sunday School. She punches, kicks, growls, and gets her wings burned down to goth-gorgeous stumps, and still keeps on fighting the bad guys. Or is she fighting the good guys?
- Lyda Morehouse has a series of Unitarianpunk novels, including Archangel Protocol and Fallen Host, about angels who suddenly start appearing on the immersive internet-like communication network of the late twenty-first century. In a world where you must be part of a religion (any religion, including Pagan) in order to have access to social services, the creatures become a political and social issue of the utmost importance. But are they genuine spiritual beings who have chosen to reveal themselves on the 'net? Or are they just AIs with alien connections who have gained self-awareness?
- In Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, including The Golden Compass, a young girl named Lyra and her companions fight to dethrone God (known as The Authority) and his band of fascist angels (known as angels). Although it's undeniable that the Authority and his angels have tremendous power — they can fly, have what seem to be spaceships, and are superstrong — they seem more like alien or mutant powers than spiritual ones. In fact, part of Pullman's point is that the creatures we think of as angels and gods may just be alien creatures with powers we don't understand. Deifying them may not be the best idea.
One reason why so many science fiction fans love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel is that the shows' demons and devils (and occasional appearance from the godlike Powers That Be) are so damn alien-like. Hanging out in Sunnydale near the Hellmouth, or in that demon Karaoke bar in Los Angeles, is like walking into the sleazy bar on Tatooine where Luke met Han Solo. Buffy creator Joss Whedon is a known science fiction buff (he also created Firefly), and neither of his shows make any effort to give spiritual explanations for the rubber-headed baddies and goodies who haunt Buffy and her Scooby Gang. Basically, Buffy could be Buffy the Alien Hunter if you just called the Hellmouth the Dimension Doorway (or the Stargate).
A favorite plotline in the Star Trek franchise is the God or angel who turns out to be nothing more than an annoying alien. Sometimes the alien calls the humans "ugly bags of mostly water," and sometimes it teaches them a lesson, and sometimes it just becomes the desktop background of people who like to laugh at the more embarrassing moments in cheesy SF. Nevertheless, Star Trek's ongoing obsession with unmasking spiritual beings as material ones marks it as one of the best places to find angels who are really aliens.
And don't even get me started on aliens who are really angels. That, as they say, is another post.