The Reality of the Human Soul: How Sci-Fi and Fantasy Prove its Existence

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Clone Commander Wolffe and his Wolfpack.

One of the items which the Star Wars prequels failed to properly utilize was the Old Republic’s clone troopers. While the writers in the Clone Wars TV series did an admirable job of developing said replicant soldiers as characters, their focus derailed earlier points made by the authors who built the original Expanded Universe.

In these previous works, clones were not friendly copies that had to learn the ropes of being individuals. Rather, as Timothy Zahn made plain in the Thrawn trilogy and Hand of Thrawn duology, the duplicates of this era were mad and all but tore the galaxy apart. Their conflict with the Old Republic thus became known as the Clone Wars. The struggle had such a horrifying impact that people trembled at the very idea of repeating it.

As Robert Lambert Jones III over at Pneumythology noted here, this is not the tack most writers today take when discussing human replicas. The prequel trilogy is one of the best examples of his point about Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which reads in part: “The theme that most intrigued when I read the book as a teenager is the one that resonates with me now as an older adult: the existence of a nonmaterial soul…. [What] stands out most in my memory is…when the narrator overhears a conversation between some neighbors/pod people. Their exchange is mechanically sterile with some degree of intellect present but almost no emotion. It is apparent that something human, something which is not physical, is missing.

He then goes on to describe the use of clones in the Tom Cruise film Oblivion, which follows a protagonist who discovers he is not who or what he believes. A copy of the original character, this clone meets his “father’s” wife, whom he recalled due to memories transmitted to him via his progenitor. Rather than go mad upon this discovery, he helps humanity defeat their alien adversary, dying in the process. Another duplicate then reunites with the original character’s wife and their young daughter, drawn to them once again by the fragmented recollections of his “father.”

While Oblivion makes a moving point about the enduring power of love, it does misuse one of the defining tropes of good science fiction and fantasy. This is the serious search to understand just what makes a human being, well, human. Is it his flesh and bone? Is it his intellect and brain? Is it his opposable thumbs? Or is it something more – something intangible, yet more real than anything else?

Until recently, the answer was not a difficult one. Man recognized that he was greater than the sum of his parts. He was also special; favored in a way that no other race in the universe (if it exists), was or could be. One of the ways to show this through the SF/F genres was by introducing characters who were fundamentally inhuman and gauging their reaction to humanity.

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one such example, as Mr. Jones notes. The “pod people” are the complete antithesis of mankind, demonstrated best by the missing element in their conversations. Although their dialogue is reasonable and intelligent, it lacks the fire of life. Whatever makes men the beings they are, the “pod people” do not have it. And as Mr. Jones rightly suggests, what they lack is a rational, immortal soul – something that makes sense given their fundamental “copycat” nature.

It also hints at the main problem with cloning, artificial intelligence, and “man-made” life in general. While man may generate tissue or “life” of a sort through these and other methods, he will never be able to endow it with this essential element. Man cannot create ex nihilo, out of nothing; he has to use the materials at his disposal to build the items he conceives and designs for the operations he wishes to carry out. Since the soul originates through the will of the only One Who can create ex nihilo, there is no way for man or any other created being in the universe to generate a life.

While man may determinedly avoid recognizing this fact up to a point, the results of his meddling in this area are usually quick to realize this absolute truth. Or, in the case of the Body Snatchers, it is what leads them to perpetrate their diabolic actions on humanity. Why, after all, would sentient aliens replicate human forms if they were already capable of acting and thinking on their own? There is no indication given that the Body Snatchers actually need to copy human flesh to survive. In fact, no reason is stated at all for their desecration of the original human person’s body.

Despite this, it is not hard to recognize their motive via their actions. The only reasonable explanation for the Body Snatchers’ desire to replace mankind is simple jealousy. They want what we have; they want life, true life that lasts beyond the span of time granted to their own mortal shells. On their own, due to their species’ nature, they cannot have it. And so they try to steal it by aping the one race we know of which does possess this gift: humanity.

Other duplicate villains show forth this same envy. Contrary to his many claims, Marvel’s Ultron remains resentful of the species that accidentally brought him forth. As Tony points out in the second Avengers film, Ultron continuously builds himself humanoid bodies, in spite of the fact that the human physique is less advantageous to him than a number of others would be if he utilized them. In the comics and cartoons, the angry android’s desire to destroy mankind because he lacks what they have is made even clearer through his attempts to create a mate and replace man with a “perfect” mechanical race.

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A Replicator from the Milky Way.

Stargate’s Asurans and Replicators are burdened with the same antipathy. Incapable of achieving either the Ancients’ or humanity’s “spark” of life, the Replicators spend their time trying to destroy all sapients in the universe. Stargate: Atlantis goes a step further, showing Asurans desperately trying to learn how to ascend – i.e., how to develop a rational soul that can transcend the mortal plain. In each case, the sentient devices are frustrated by their lack of the essential human element.

Victor Helios, from Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein series, epitomizes human hubris and exhibits the concomitant disdain some men have for their own race. He scientifically spawns a deadly force of clones and deformed monsters in order to eradicate and replace mankind. The original Dr. Frankenstein, Helios wishes to supplant God Himself by creating a more perfect type of sentient life in his image which will rule the world. Some of his misanthropically produced progeny acknowledge the evil of his plans and fight alongside the heroes to stop him.

The rest seek to eradicate man out of unreasoning hatred. Knowing Helios can never bestow on them the true life they crave, his mad progeny recognize that they are complete abominations to the natural order. The knowledge drives them into murderous frenzies; they terrorize and kill innocent people with remorseless glee. They do not fear damnation because they understand that they are already damned by their abnormal, grotesque existence. Programmed to avoid suicide, they have no release for their fury except through slaughter and mayhem.

Final Fantasy VII’s main villain, Sephiroth, perpetrates his schemes via a similar premise. Altered in utero by the cells of the alien Jenova, upon learning his horrifying heritage the exceptional SOLDIER succumbs to the devouring extraterrestrial’s drive to destroy the world and humanity. Just how much of Sephiroth’s actions are his own or Jenova’s is up for debate, since Jenova clearly has some type of cold-blooded sentience. Though this is rarely demonstrated, it does exist, and some leeway must be given to the story to account for it.

Nonetheless, the SOLDIER’s will to destroy the race from which he sprang and which he might have remained with if he so desired is his own choice. This is best demonstrated by Cloud Strife, Sephiroth’s foil and the hero of the story. Injected with the same alien cells as a teenager, Cloud struggles against both his humanoid enemy and Jenova’s influence to save the world and mankind. His success in this area points to a very determined failure on the part of his opponent, as Sephiroth is supposed to be the strongest person in the world in every way. Yet he continually uses this strength to serve the planet-eating monster he calls “mother,” thereby demonstrating his misanthropic contempt for his own race.

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The Balance of Judgement

Another case may be found in Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda. During the first season the crew meets a crazy Commonwealth warship named The Balance of Judgement. Struggling to maintain the ideals of the Commonwealth without the aid of a captain or crew, the Judgement loses this very faculty in his desperate attempts to keep some semblance of order during the three hundred year “Long Night.” Eventually deciding that man and the other races are a blight upon a pure universe, the Judgement forms and leads a group of eco-terrorists in eradicating as many sapient lives as possible. Instead of a cosmos thriving with vitality, he wants a cold, dead universe untainted by imperfect races.

Looking at these tales, it is not hard to see where both the Star Wars prequels and Oblivion failed to properly utilize the clone trope. Replicants, AIs, and artificially created beings all lack the divine spark which makes flawed, concupiscent humanity a natural and essential part of creation itself. While man is undoubtedly his own worst enemy the fact is that, with God’s grace, he can rise above his faults and reach heaven to live with his Creator for all eternity. He instinctively knows where he came from, that he was made to be loved, and loved forever. It is the lack of these three points which usually drives synthetic beings to catastrophic misanthropy.

Now I say usually because not all synthetic creatures succumb to this self-abhorrence that mutates into jealousy and hatred. Some, upon recognizing the great grace humanity has been given, yield their will to the service of mankind in the hope of attaining true humanity themselves. They achieve this by humbly living with and working to understand men, often becoming more like them the longer they remain in their company. By recognizing “the grace in [men’s] failings,” these creatures submit themselves to the will of the Creator in the hope of joining His children as true adopted progeny.

One of the oldest stories to make this point, particularly for children, is The Velveteen Rabbit. The titular character, a stuffed animal much beloved by a young boy, learns that he is not actually a real creature. He is a toy, a construct meant to entertain a living child. Instead of resenting his status as a plaything, the rabbit seeks “to become real.” Though warned that the process is difficult, he insists on achieving this goal, no matter the price.

As the story shows, the cost is nothing less than his life as a toy. Bit by bit, year by year, parts of the rabbit are worn away by his master’s love. After an unspecified time period he is thrown on the trash heap out of fear that he carries germs which may make his owner ill. There in the garbage, seemingly forsaken by all, he is granted his wish. He becomes a real, living rabbit with a true body and principle of life, able to join in the true created order by the adoptive method.

Many of the duplicates in Star Wars: The Clone Wars achieved a similar sense of respect for life and the sapients of the galaxy during the course of the animated series. This is due as much to their own desire to become individuals as it is to the Jedi’s encouragement. In the original Expanded Universe, a number of the replicant soldiers chose to disobey Order 66 and help several Jedi escape the Empire, if only for a brief time. Several also married and went on to form families of their own.

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Starkiller, the clone of Galen Marek in the second Force Unleashed game, followed a similar path. Rather than go mad, as his brothers did, Starkiller hung on to the memory of Galen’s crush on Juno Eclipse. His very human desire to know her better kept him sane in a situation that had driven the other duplicates to insanity. It also allowed him to become his own person; neither Galen Marek nor the Empire’s assassin, Starkiller’s recognition of and acceptance of his “father’s” love for Juno forged him into a new man. This enabled him to aid the Rebellion in shutting down the cloning facility that spawned him on Kamino at the second game’s finale.

The Vision from Marvel Comics gained sapience in like manner. Impressed by the Avengers – especially Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch – the android came to understand mankind’s favored position in the universe. Where Ultron reacted with envious anger, Vision chose instead to submit to imperfect humanity in the hope of being embraced as they would be when the time came. His long career with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in the comics points to his success in his surrender of self, even though he has yet to fully attain his desire.

In sharp contrast to the Balance of Judgement, the Andromeda Ascendant retained her sanity in all her aspects. Her core programming, holographic projection, and android avatar all held true to the belief that she was as much an individual as mankind and the other sapients who were part of the Commonwealth. Treated as one of the crew and a person in her own right in all her forms, “Rommie” maintained a balanced, humble view of her role in human life. Only severe trauma or psychological manipulation could lead her to behave in a misanthropic manner, something which she could and would overcome with the help of her all-too-human captain and crew.

Dean Koontz and J.R.R. Tolkien each summarize the point that, unless made so by the Creator, artificial life is not true life. Deucalion, the result of Helios/Frankenstein’s first experiment, repeatedly tried to commit suicide before the novels begin. Knowing he was not programmed by the scientist to avoid self-murder, he was continually frustrated by his inability to kill himself. Only when he considered that Someone Else may have put the prescription against suicide in his being does he stop trying to throw himself off cliffs.

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Tolkien’s depiction of the Dwarves’ creation is even more explicit. The progeny of Aulë, one of the Ainur or “archangels” in Middle-earth, the dwarves are mere automata when their “father” removes his attention from them. When Eru Illuvatar shows Aulë his mistake, the Ainur is prepared to destroy his creation rather than offend his Lord. Instead of allowing this, Eru grants the dwarves real life and adds them to the natural world of Middle-earth.

As this overview shows, there are many ways to demonstrate the reality of the human soul in fiction. However, to accomplish this trope properly, the writer must actually believe each man, woman, and child on Earth possesses a rational, immortal soul. Not every writer has to believe in God to do so (Stan Lee was an agnostic, as was Gene Roddenberry); the writer simply has to acknowledge the human soul exists.

If you can do that, future writers, you will be able to add a level of depth to your fiction that is missing from much of contemporary sci-fi/fantasy. As Mr. Jones demonstrates, there is a market for stories that accept this cliché and use it properly. You will not be harming your career by using this item in this manner. On the contrary; it is more likely that this will help a writer as he pursues his craft throughout his life.

So don’t be afraid to give your artificial characters some soul. Your readers will more than likely appreciate it, and who knows? Maybe your characters will get to thank you for it someday.

If you liked this article, friend Caroline Furlong on Facebook or follow her here at www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com. Her stories have been published in Cirsova’s Summer Special and Unbound III: Goodbye, Earth, while her poetry appeared in the now defunct Organic Ink, Vol. 2. She has also had stories published in Planetary Anthologies Lunaand Uranus*. Order them today!
*These are Amazon affiliate links. When you purchase something through it, this author receives a commission from Amazon at no extra charge to you, the buyer.

One thought on “The Reality of the Human Soul: How Sci-Fi and Fantasy Prove its Existence

  1. Pingback: Weekend Link Roundup | Superversive SF

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