Warning: Spoilers abound

Just finished Ken Macleod’s Learning the World. It’s been a long time since I finished a tome of science fiction…or picked one up for that matter.

On many levels I really enjoyed Learning the World. It is what is called in the genre a “first contact” story which was very imaginative and very well written. The main character Atomic Discourse Gale (very cool name!) was immediately likable. I almost felt like she was my kid sister or something. I loved how she would chronicle her experiences on her biolog (which is some form of advanced blog). Ha! Then of course, there the Alien Space Bats and their whole society. Very intriguing! The creativity that Macleod put into designing the bat society was wonderful. There was such depth there. I loved the friendship between the two main character bats Darvin and Orro (an astronomer and a physicist respectively).

I was also disappointed by the book. Why? Well, the book is essentially a God free zone. Listen, I am not a dualist and I can enjoy scifi that is not written by a “Christian author”. I will let each work of fiction stand on it’s own merits. And this one came up short morally. There are evolutionary themes running throughout the book. That in itself is not unusual for scifi nor does it disqualify it for me. No, it was something much more pervasive and subtle than that. As one person who was quoted as praising the book noted on the back cover that Macleod’s writing “offers vast (and even godlike) possibilities for human kind.” Yep, that’s it. As I read I realized, these people have no need for God. They are nearly perfect. They have mastered incredible accomplishments. For example, there appears to be no disease and people live for hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years.

Look, without Jesus, mankind is doomed. We are not essentially good. Nor do we have any hope in and of ourselves. We have proven this time and time again. Movies like Fight Club, Sin City and others show well the innate depravity of human beings. We can improve technologically, but we can’t seem to end poverty, and wars, and crime, and all sort sorts of oppression and hatred racial and otherwise.

That being said, the book did have a glimmer of hope that I will quote directly. The following statement is made by the main character Atomic in relation to those that are space farers and more advanced and who contact other planet bound species for the first time:

“…those like us who come first are changed the least, and are thus doomed always to find themselves in a universe in which they are in every sense primitive, and to encounter species wiser and kinder than they.”

Very nice comment. Atomic’s people, though they are immensely advanced are also at once primitive. They are a cold, morally devoid people.