Ex Machina and Religion

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Charles Phipps, Jun 22, 2013.

  1. Charles Phipps

    Charles Phipps Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Sep 17, 2011
    Hey, I just finished Ex Machina and am mulling over it a bit before I give a review but I thought it's one of the most interesting and thoughtful analyses of religion we've had in Star Trek. I don't agree with it all but it's a topic we rarely saw handled subtly in the show. I mean, yes, we had Bajor but their discussion of faith was always kind of tainted by the fact their gods were demonstrably real. You don't need to take much on faith when you can use Heaven as an interstellar bypass.

    I really like the subtext of the book that religions are evolving things and shaped by countless historical as well as cultural realities. The book nicely skips any of the fantastical elements of religion by simply dealing with the social effect of faith. I felt it was a really balanced view on the subject.

    I also think it's a nicely unconventional TOS episode because it's exactly the opposite of the usual sort of thing Kirk does. There's no rushing in and trying to solve everything. It's also a good deal more interesting, to me at least, than the episode it reminds me of (TNG'S "Who Watches the Watchers").

    That era's Captain Picard would absolutely love the entirely rationalist Natira and encourage her to continue guiding her people down the path of pure reason. However, Kirk and Spock note that (for better or worse) their religion is THEIR beliefs not something that is easily thrown aside for something shiny but foreign.

    (Of course, the circumstances are different as well but Picard's loathing of religion in that episode was pretty clear)

    The story is all the more ambiguous and interesting because the faith is demonstrably a false one from a supernatural perspective, too. I thought that made things more interesting too because it becomes a question of the secular value of religion as well as supernatural.

    This is some deep deep subject matter I usually don't associate with the TOS period. I'd be interested in what other people thought.
  2. Mage

    Mage Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Jun 17, 2007
    I re-read Ex Machine a few weeks ago, and I agree that the exploration of faith/religion in this novel is quite potent. Interpretation is both a strongpoint and weakness of religion. And Christopher was able to explore those assets and weaknesses without judging, something I appreciated very much.
  3. Charles Phipps

    Charles Phipps Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Sep 17, 2011
    I also appreciated the fact he dealt with the changing issues of language. One of the major things you run into when studying religious texts is how language has shifted (or how words are translated).

    It's nice to also see the Federation doing a "typical" (we don't have to resort to phasers) style story.
  4. ElScoob

    ElScoob Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Feb 28, 2001
    30th Century Metropolis
    I agree with the above points, but what I liked best about the book was its basic concept--tying together threads from "For The World Is Hollow..." and TMP, in addition to the 'Kirk gets into a fist fight with (a) god' and 'Kirk talks a computer to death' tropes. It was an engaging look into some of the repercussions of Kirk's actions during TOS and recurring themes in Star Trek.

    Christopher did something similar in DTI: Forgotten History, regarding Kirk's reputation as a temporal menace. I really enjoyed that too--there's a good reason Christopher's books are some of the only Trek fiction I've read in several years. He's really good at picking up threads from Trek's history and producing thoughtful, meticulously-researched, and entertaining explorations of those threads' significance in a larger Trek universe.

  5. Charles Phipps

    Charles Phipps Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Sep 17, 2011
    Yeah, it's kind of interesting for Chistopher to put Captain Kirk through a mid-life crisis where he re-examines everything we associate with him being Captain Kirk-like. After TMP seems like the perfect time for this since a large part of the movie was dealing with JTK's stupid decisions.

    Ex Machina
    is him handling things slowly, methodically, and with a minimum of punching giant lizards in the face. It's really an excellent "bridge" novel between TOS and TNG.

    Character-wise, I *REALLY* liked the character of Reiko Onami and how utterly out of place she was in the TOS-era crew. I hope Christopher somehow finds a way to insert her into his future books.

    Finally, I like how the book discusses, in a somewhat off-hand manner, the nature of the Singularity. The Singularity, much like the Tao, cannot be described because both are entities which are indescribable by their very nature. The Singularity is when we reach a point technologically or socially we cease to be able to be understood by normal humans. Christopher tackles the Singularity-like event of TMP and questions what this would mean for individuals seeking religious answers in the cosmos. In short, if you're looking for a god, what happens when a being is created who might as well be one?

    That's a REALLY cool question.