Science fiction casts a flickering light on the future, sometimes extraordinarily prescient, often not. Its illumination of the present is much surer, because what's being illuminated is how people (some people, anyway) are thinking, how they are seeing the world. The zeitgeist, in short. So when Pat Robertson was making his short-lived run for the presidency, leading up to the 1988 election, a boxload of sci-fi appeared, forecasting a fundamentalist theocracy in the United States. As prediction, that was ludicrous, but the books were dead-on in showing how Christians are viewed by the enlightened.

In that sense, the most illuminating American novelist of the last 20 years has been William Gibson, who coined the word "cyberspace" in a 1981 short story that became part of his first novel, Neuromancer (1984), a book whose influence remains potent even today. (The 1999 film, The Matrix, could never have been conceived without Gibson's work.) So it's not surprising that Gibson's fiction illuminates the mindset that informs what the media are calling "the stem-cell wars."

Christians are among Gibson's favorite villains—always "fundamentalist Christians," and one assumes that for him there is no other kind. They figure repeatedly as admonitory examples of blind adherence to outmoded notions of what is natural and right. Members of one sect, the Fallonites, have adapted to modernity sufficiently to believe that God is somehow present on television: "Kind of in the background or something." They are utter fools, but nicer than the Revealed Aryan Nazarenes or the Crucified Jesus People, who carry chrome nails in leather neck-pouches and every once in a while crucify someone.

Writ large, with a gifted novelist's wit and imagination, ...

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