Graduate Theological Union
Alexis Latner, M.A. '85, science fiction writer
The Graduate Theological Union is a place where theology has imagination, and the imagination has theology. Witness my M.A. thesis: I started with revelation as described by Paul Tillich — conventional and comfortable reality falling apart, creating human anguish, and painful existential questions, after which the holy reveals itself as a surprising and salvific answer. And I compared it to classics of science fiction literature, like Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin, and A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller. Where else but at the GTU, with the critical but enthusiastic support of advisors, could I have done a thesis like this? My primary advisor was Robert J. Russell, Director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. Ted Peters of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and Durwood Foster of San Francisco Theological Seminary also advised.
My thesis was a springboard to a vocation in creative writing. I’ve edited creative and technical books, taught creative writing, and written magazine articles. My stories have appeared in science fiction magazines and horror anthologies, and my novel, Hurricane Moon, was published in July 2007.
The intersection of science and religion plays a large part in Hurricane Moon. A starship sets out to find a new world and establish a new civilization, without the mistakes made on Earth. The new world must have a large moon to stabilize the planet’s axis, bring life-giving tides, and assure the ecological future. Astronauts and colonists of the starship Aeon discover a green, oceanic planet covered with hurricanes. It has a huge blue moon. But then their season of crisis begins. The starfarers are variously humanist, atheist, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Pagan, and other — and all of them must refine their faith in the crucible of the unknown unknown. For space mission planners, that phrase means the things you can’t plan for because you can’t anticipate them. In a theological context, “the unknown unknown” evokes God. In Hurricane Moon, people experience the unknown unknown in both ways.
“Studying theology and faith in an ecumenical,
interfaith, multicultural setting was memorable, and those experiences
led me to create new worlds in which to explore questions of
spirituality and science.”
There are as many reasons to write science fiction as there are writers, but as a GTU alumna, a substantial part of my motivation is service to the world. Science fiction readers tend to have lively but tired minds — they are readers who need mental recreation. When someone needs a good book to help get through a bad night, I want mine to be a book they reach for. Additionally, we live in a world where science and technology continually unravel our certainties, change our social structures, and even threaten to end the world, as we know it. Parables of faith in a scientific, technological universe help both writer and reader in their journeys of faith.
The GTU helped shape my theological imagination and my writing. Studying theology and faith in an ecumenical, interfaith, multicultural setting was memorable, and those experiences led me to create new worlds in which to explore questions of spirituality and science.