Shaggy God story
A shaggy God story is a minor science fiction genre characterized by an attempt to explain Biblical concepts with science fiction tropes. The term was coined by writer and critic Brian W. Aldiss in a pseudonymous column in the October 1965 issue of New Worlds. The term is a pun on the concept of a shaggy dog story. A typical example of a shaggy God story would feature pair of astronauts landing on a lush and virgin world and in the last line their names are revealed as Adam and Eve. Another classic example is Isaac Asimov's 1956 short story "The Last Question" which ends with the protagonist supercomputer exclaiming "Let there be light!"
The creation of the term is often misattributed to Michael Moorcock. Moorcock edited the issue of New Worlds where Aldiss coined the term in a pseudonymous column. It has been suggested that many assumed Moorcock to be the author of the column. The issue was cleared up in an August 2004 David Langford column in SFX magazine.
The genre as a cliché
|“||The shaggy god story is the bane of magazine editors, who get approximately one story a week set in a garden of Eden spelt Ee-Duhn.
—Brian W. Aldiss, writing as Dr. Peristyle, New Worlds October, 1965.
Brian Stableford notes in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2nd ed.) that "a considerable fraction" of stories submitted to science fiction magazines feature a male and female astronaut marooned on a habitable planet and “reveal (in the final line) that their names are Adam and Eve.”
The genre is also listed as a cliché in the Science Fiction Writers of America's Turkey City Lexicon and David Langford's SFX magazine column on same. Will Ferguson references the cliché extensively in his novel Generica (2001).
Expansions of the term
Shaggy God themes can be seen as an effort to harmonize religious accounts about the origin of human beings with science fiction tropes such as alien races, interstellar travel, genetic manipulation, the uplift of primitive races and man’s place in the galactic life cycle.
David Brin's Uplift Universe is a series of science fiction works that deal with the idea of advanced intergalactic cultures who identify proto-sentient species and genetically manipulate them into star-faring cultures in their own right (often enslaving them for thousands of years as payment.) In the novels, proponents of the view that humans were uplifted by a galactic culture (as opposed to evolving into sentience) are called “Dänikenites.”
2001: A Space Odyssey was called this by film critic John Simon. One interpretation of David Bowman's entrance in to the EVA pod before entering space (the new Eden) to become a Star Child suggests Adam and Eve and the dawn of new man. Some people interpreted David Bowman transforming into the Star Child as him turning into a god or godlike being. The plot also involves an alien intelligence "creating" modern man by improving upon mankind's hominid ancestors.
Douglas Adams's The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, a sequel to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, parodies the Shaggy God story with a subplot where the planet Golgafrincham comes up with a scheme to rid itself of its useless workers, such as telephone sanitizers and insurance salesmen, by sending them off in a space ark that eventually lands on the prehistoric Earth. The marooned telephone sanitizers, insurance salesmen, and other blissfully ignorant societal rejects are thought to have driven the indigenous Neanderthal-like race to extinction to themselves become the ancestors of modern Homo sapiens, until the sequel reveals otherwise.
- Bibliography Blues at www.ansible.co.uk
- Clute, John and Peter Nicholls. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995
- Science Fiction Writers of America. Turkey City Lexicon: A Primer for SF Workshops.
- David Langford's July 2004 SFX magazine column SFX "Langford" Column Index
- Simon, John. Review of 2001 reprinted from The New Leader in Jerome Agel's The Making of Kubrick's 2001, Signet Books, 1970. ISBN 0-451-07139-5