Sci-fi ‘Anomaly’ and the church of popular culture

Recently, writer Harry “Skip” Brittenham and artist Brian Haberlin released their epic science fiction multimedia project “Anomaly” to the delight … Continued

Recently, writer Harry “Skip” Brittenham and artist Brian Haberlin released their epic science fiction multimedia project “Anomaly” to the delight of fanboys and comic book connoisseurs around the world. The longest original full-color graphic novel ever produced, “Anomaly” is a trailblazer in its use of augmented reality, which creates a unique reading experience through three-dimensional interactivity. “Anomaly” is available both as a hardcover book and as a stand-alone tablet application narrated by acclaimed voice-over actors from the world of video games and audio books. This innovative multiplatform format provides an exciting vision for the future of graphic novels and comic books.

Anomaly takes place in the year 2717, at a time when the Earth’s natural resources have been depleted and most humans live on space stations or off-world colonies. All nations have merged into a single corporation called the Conglomerate, a profit-driven entity mining the known universe for resources and materials. A motley group of explorers are sent to a distant planet for a seemingly straightforward mission, but they soon discover that their journey is much more complicated, dangerous, and important than they could have ever imagined.

Though it is set in the future, “Anomaly” highlights issues that are critical for contemporary society, such as the disparity of wealth, the danger of corporate plutocracy, and the necessity of environmental conservation. “Anomaly” also explores profound questions regarding the true nature of reality, exemplified by the book’s tagline – “a journey to a fantastic world where nothing is as it appears.” Indeed, the narrative is infused with religious themes such as prophecy and redemption, and the characters inhabit a universe governed by an all-encompassing, intergalactic Theology of the One.

“Anomaly” is a new addition to a growing body of science fiction epics that are spiritual at their core, and this is especially apparent with science fiction cinema. Rich in symbolism, imagery, and allegory, “2001: A Space Odyssey” wrestled deeply with the implications of evolution and technology. “Star Wars” created a new mythology for a new generation, bringing together the archetype of the hero’s journey with the metaphysical power of the Force. Based on the premise that reality is a dream and that life is an illusion, “The Matrix” creatively examined philosophical precepts from Platonism, Gnosticism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. “Avatar” invoked Gaia theory and Native American spirituality to illustrate the interconnectedness of the natural world and the importance of environmental stewardship. And “Prometheus” interrogated the age-old dilemma of theodicy while also asking the ultimate questions about the nature of God. By exploring the enduring human themes of meaning and purpose, these films are not only morality tales but also blockbuster franchises, replete with prequels and sequels. Inspired by this paradigm, Anomaly is envisioned as a trilogy and the film adaptation is already being planned.

According to the Pew Forum Religious Landscape Study, a record number of Americans have disaffiliated with their religious traditions and a significant segment of American society now self-identifies as spiritual but not religious. Indeed, for millions of Americans, popular culture has become more influential than institutional religion, and many contemporary artists, authors, athletes, actors, and auteurs are revered and lauded for their spiritual insights. Within this context of pop cultural spirituality, science fiction offers a unique window into the existential complexities of the human condition.

By juxtaposing the human and the alien, the terrestrial and the extra-terrestrial, and the ordinary and the extraordinary, science fiction challenges us to reclaim our humanity and ponder our place in the universe. Accordingly, “Anomaly” is not an anomaly, but rather a continuation of the science fiction and spirituality lineage, and a new sacred text for the church of popular culture.

Varun Soni is the dean of religious life at the University of Southern California.

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