Monthly Archives: April 2014

Religion in Abaddon’s Gate

[Spoiler Alert]

“Arriving at the Ring was a political fiction, but that didn’t keep it from being real.”

In my last post, I discussed why I thought the Expanse Theory  by James S. A. Corey would make a compelling TV show.  This post explores the third book in the series, Abaddon’s Gate. Jim Holden and his crew’s swashbuckling adventures on the Rocinante, their spaceship, continue. The ideas explored in Abaddon’s Gate are intriguing in terms of both science and religion. Before I started reading, I looked up Abaddon since I didn’t understand the reference.  It was an apt naming choice since the gate that the characters go through is a portal to other areas of the Universe.  Holden keeps seeing his dead companion Miller from the first book.

This book includes major revelations that change our species’ perception of the universe irrevocably.  The first two books dealt with the protomolecule, and at the end of the second book in the series, Caliban’s War, the alien artifact builds a ring near Uranus.  The Ring attracts the attention of the various governments, as well as religious leaders and scholars.  Although there are theories as to its scientific and religious meanings, it’s a puzzle.  Holden and his crew, the main characters from the previous books, want to stay as far as they can from it, but fate (and the actions of other characters) leads the crew of the Rocinate into the middle of the action.

Several new characters were introduced including Anna, a Methodist Minister, and Melba, the alternate identity of the daughter of a man that Holden helped to imprison in the previous book.  Clarissa/Melba wants to destroy Holden and plants a bomb to destroy a spaceship.  She manipulates video to make it appear that Holden is claiming the Ring for the Outer Planets Alliance.  In a religious, moral sense, Clarissa Mao commits heinous acts.  Not only does she murder everyone on board the sabotaged ship, but she kills her coworker and friend, Ren, in cold blood to protect this act.  It’s a brutal murder, and one that the character experiences guilt and remorse over. Melba/Clarissa’s character arc is an important one. Throughout the book, she regains more and more of her Clarissa identity, and she plays a major role at the end of the book when she allows Anna, the minister, to convince her that there is hope and she foils the other characters.  The character allows for an exploration of the nature of individual “evil” like revenge.

 Of the new point of view characters, I found Anna, the minister, to be the most compelling.  In the first scene, she intimidates a man who is abusing one of her congregants and lies about his actions to get him arrested. While she feels bad about the lie, she feels that it will do more good in the universe.  Throughout the book, Anna is a character who reflects deeply, but she also knows when it’s time to act.

Although many religious leaders are aboard the flotilla exploring the ring, Anna seems to be the most concerned with the meaning of the Ring and actually ministering to people during the confusing time.  Anna gains a small congregation.  When crisis hits, she acts to help other people at great risk to herself.  She is mainly contrasted with another religious leader, Hector Cortez.  Although he might come across as a villain, he seen by Anna as a person who is acting based on a fear of the unknown.  When considering Cortez, I’m reminded of the horrible things that human beings are capable of when they feel they are protecting their in-group.

He fears the Ring will destroy their civilization, and he helps a leader of one of the ships attempt to destroy the Ring. However, as Holden learns, the Ring, if it feels threatened won’t just destroy the threat inside the ring. It’ll kill off the entire human race to protect itself from a perceived threat.

Anna is the example of our better selves, trying to understand the out-group and not assuming that a different way of thinking is an evil way of thinking.  We should not assume that something that harms us is necessarily evil.  However, both Anna and Cortez were trying to do what they perceived to be right given the situation.

Ultimately, we have to determine as individuals, groups, organizations, and societies how we want to face the uncertainties that we’re exposed to. Do we want to allow our fear to cause us to face the unknown aggressively?  Do we want to face the unknown with a spirit of adventure? In terms of shaping our societies here on Earth, we can ask these same questions.  Should we assume that other nations mean us harm?

In terms of trying to become individuals (and nations) who are less likely to respond in fear, we can attempt to meet and interact with people who are different than us.  We can try to help those with less of a voice to be able to have space to speak.  We can try to learn more about other cultures.  Whether one is overtly religious or not, we can spend time trying to meditation and doing stress reduction techniques to try to allow us to be calmer when we are faced with our fight or flight response. We can explore our own privileges and try to use our privilege to help others who are disadvantaged. (Although we have to be careful not to let our privileged position overshadow the work and voices of the individuals in the categories that we are trying to assist.) We have a responsibility as individual people to consider how our groups are acting and to protest when our society is acting out of fear and harming others.  Anna was a great example of someone through both training and personality who met the world with an open stance.  Yet, this did not make her weak.  She still knew that sometimes we have to defend ourselves and others.  It seems this is a fine line, and I’m not exactly sure when you give up on trying to understand the other to defend yourself or your community.

After reading Abaddon’s Gate, I’m curious to see how humans in that version of our universe turn out.  Will they give into their fear or will they rise to face uncertainty with curiosity and openness?


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Squee: The Expanse Series on Syfy

[Minor spoilers]

This weekend, my friend, Daniel, sent me an article on the new TV series planned for Syfy based on the Expanse Series by James S.A. Corey.  I’ve been giving the first book as a gift to friends over the past couple of years because I think it’s so fun.  Although I’m already working on a longer blog post about the third novel, Abbadon’s Gate, I couldn’t wait to share my excitement. (For more information on the new show, you can read this review on Io9.) The Expanse Series would make for compelling television with its great, swashbuckling plots, diverse characters, and thought-provoking ideas about the nature of humanity’s place in the universe.

I’ve reviewed the first two books, Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War already. The plot engaged me in all three books.  Plenty of material exists to fill episodes between the overarching mystery of what’s happening with the newly discovered protomolecule, swashbuckling adventures, and political intrigue.  At first, I had reservations about the treatment of women in the books.  The first book has a noir feel and few women as protagonists.  But the second book has terrific, strong women like Bonnie, a Mars Marine, and Chrisjen Avasarala, a powerful politician.  Although I haven’t posted my review of the third book yet, the trend of intriguing characters, both men and women, continues.

Finally, the books explore deep ideas about the place of humanity in the universe.  In the third book, questions of human nature and society to the forefront.  How do humans react under conditions of massive uncertainty?  How do we respond to loss and pain? How do we want to act as a collective? Can we get beyond the loyalty to in groups that divide us?

I have high hopes for this television series and hope that Syfy can do it justice.  I should have my review of Abbadon’s Gate up this week.  The post mainly focuses on religious implications of the discoveries made in series.

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