I know in the Venn diagram of “science fiction lovers” and “classic Greek and Roman literature,” there’s not exactly a ton of overlap. But for those like myself who are fans of both, or for those who enjoy taking a more scholarly examination of scifi, have I got a book for you.
It’s Classical Traditions in Science Fiction, a collection of critical essays examining how the classic works of Homer, Virgil, Lucretius and even just general ancient mythology has influenced science fiction, from the novels of Jules Verne up to The Hunger Games. As its title indicates, this is not exactly a breezy summer read, but instead composed of scholarly works that go deep into how the thoughts of the past connect with our imagination of the future, accompanied by an army of footnotes.
But if going that in-depth into science fiction is your jam, CTiSF is a fascinating collection edited by Brett M. Rogers (Asst. Professor of Classics at the University of Puget Sound) and Benjamin Eldon Stevens (Visiting Asst. Professor at Bryn Mawr). There are 14 essays in total, but let me mention three of my favorites:
• “Disability as a Rhetorical Trope in Classical Myth and Blade Runner” by Rebecca Raphael
Comparing the automata of Hephaestus and the Replicants of Blade Runner may seem obvious, but Raphael argues for a deeper examination, where, in both past and present, the Other is invariably seen as Lesser, which is used to justify their persecution either by culture, gender, race, or something else entirely. As the men of myth destroyed monsters and conquered their enemies, justified by that qualification of disability, so too does Deckard hunt Replicants for the crime of being not-quite-human.
• “Mortal and Moral in Star Trek: The Original Series” by George Kovacs
If you thought this book would not discuss the three classic Trek episodes where Kirk and the crew found aliens inspired by classical mythology (namely, a world of aliens taught by Plato, a world where the Roman empire never fell, and a world containing the actual Greek god Apollo), well, think again. But Kovacs not only discusses the obvious influences but also how Star Trek’s “Prime Directive” forms out of the conflict between mortal and immortal, and a sense of continually striving for perfection versus the stagnation of that perfection.
• “Hybrids and Homecomings in the Odyssey and Alien: Resurrection” by Brett M. Rogers
I know. Bringing in the most maligned entry in the Alien franchise and comparing it to Homer’s Odyssey sounds like insanity. And Stevens, one of the book’s co-editors, is quick to point out that screenwriter Joss Whedon probably didn’t exactly have one of the cornerstone of Western literature in mind when he wrote the movie. But by examining the alien hybrid/clone of Ripley as a more fundamental essence of humanity—torn between monstrous and enlightened natures—Stevens also examines Odysseus, whose barbarity when returning to Ithaca seems to negate his epic journey. Basically, this essay brings a new look at The Odyssey which I found utterly compelling—and again, it does it with Alien: Resurrection! It’s worth the price of admission by itself, folks.
Again, please let me warn you that this is a scholarly work—these essays are much more like something you’d reading in literary publications than a fan site. But if you’re excited by taking a deeper look into science fiction through the lens of the myths and stories of antiquity—that is to say if you’re a Classics nerd along with being a traditional nerd—then Classical Traditions in Science Fiction is an absolute blast.
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