Today I caught a Sunday matinée of Prometheus — a heavily criticized film that is meant to be something of a pre-Alien movie. I’m just going to come right out and say that I thought it was fine. I don’t know if I thought that because so many big block busting sci-fi films have let me down so spectacularly or because it actually was fine (please direct all of your well-composed thoughts to the contrary to someone who hasn’t thought of them already). It made me think about my beloved science fiction genre (or Speculative fiction, if you please) and I realized that I haven’t yet posted about my heart, my genre, my raison d’écrire.
Science Fiction is my favorite genre of fiction, movies and peer-reviewed research. Not the drug store paper back kind or the teenage nerd in space adventure (I do like these kinds, they’re just not my favorite), but the kind of science fiction that changes your perspective and, sometimes, the world.
Everyone loves to hate sci-fi and they’ve got every right, really. Science is awesome. It’s so interesting on it’s own that it seems impossible that science fiction, which is supposed to build upon and speculate about known science, could be bad. But, it can be so super bad sometimes.
Sci-fi can go wrong in so many ways:
Sometimes the science is just too stupid, and that, to me, is the worst kind. If the science is so bad that I, an English literature/ Art History major with a C+ in her mandatory science class, can see right through it, then what’s the point? What is the point? You might as well write about magic at least then someone could get into the arbitrariness of it.
A lot of times People hate sci-fi because of the drama. Often, writers think that, because they are writing something that would be so big, frightening and awe-inspiring if it actually went down, they should compose that way. And they’re wrong. No one wants to read that. It’s not real. Even in the darkest of moments or the most monumental, people are just gross old people. They like being regular, joking, drinking, farting, laughing, fighting folks. This is not to say that a bit of melodrama isn’t effective – it is. They key is to just add a bit and that is, evidently, really hard.
No one likes to read dialogue that translates as: this is so important that your puny little minds will never comprehend its significance.
Most of the time, the hate is for both the bad science and melodrama. Plus, everyone is half-naked and doing some thing gross with slime and gore, which is kind of fun in it’s own way – like Prometheus. It’s the kind that the 14-year-old geeks and I, unfortunately, like. Sorry for ruining your lives.
The thing about Sci-fi is, it comes attached to a bunch of high falutin questions that need to be dealt with in a conservative and discreet way. Take, for example, the common scenario of the end of the world:
How did it happen?
Is it our fault or God’s?
Aliens attack: why?, Because we’re bad?, Or because they’re God?
Meteors hit: Why us?
Who is greater, the Universe or humanity’s will to live?
There is no escaping the scale of these implications and sometimes that makes for hilarity, sometimes it’s embarrassing, and sometimes, it’s totally awesome – a completely religious experience for me.
When sci-fi gets it right, it is so right. More right than anything else. Contact the book and the movie changed my life. Carl Sagan and Anne Druyan, alone, might be the reasons that I write. Contact was elegant and undeniably honest and it asked questions in just the right way.
I believe that is what science fiction is meant to do. It’s supposed to ask the questions: what do you think, really? How far do you think we could go? What do you think is possible? How do you think we will make it? Why?
And sometimes it answers them. Here are some of the answers: Space shuttles to the moon, space stations, Mars One, X prize, Ipods, Cell phones, nano technology, GPS, GIS, and so on.
These are the questions and answers that inspire me to do anything. Sometimes I can only fall asleep when I imagine myself floating in zero-g, just chilling in space. And I believe that will be possible for me some day because of good old SF.
So, Thank you, Science Fiction.
(It was difficult to write this without turning this blog post into a reading/watching list. Ender’s Game (up to and including, The Shadow of the Hegemon), The Dark Tower Series, Stranger in a Strange Land, Diamond Age, Handmaids Tale, Oryx and Crake, The year of the Flood, The Matrix, Star Wars, Star Trek, Contact, More Than Human, Dune, Fahrenheit 451 (I thought “David” in Prometheus was a throwback to this), Slaughterhouse Five, Brave New World, 2001, A Wrinkle in Time, Another Earth, Melancholia, 2010, Fire in the Sky, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator1&2… Ok, I’m having too much fun with this.)