Thursday, August 6, 2020

truth and science fiction

Classical science fiction is my first love of reading. Anything from its early days, especially the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. They told stories of adventure in settings that were not possible, at least not at the times in which they lived. I also have enjoyed Poul Anderson, Andre Norton, Michael Crichton, and many others, for their imaginative and fantastic stories. I've also grown up with much in terms of visual storytelling (tv and movies) with Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Babylon 5, Stargate, etc.

However, the fantastic worlds and beings are not the full picture of why science fiction is my first love. The real appeal is in stories that present a view of the human condition using the science fiction settings, especially alien worlds and cultures.

Whether it involves humans or aliens, science fiction (and also fantasy) allows us to explore ideas that we can't in our real world. It provides a means of exploring other governments, cultures, and environmental settings that interact to create an alien race or alter the human race. The many sub-genres provide infinite possibilities, like the theory of alternate realities, where every decision branches off into a new reality. Whether time-travel, space opera, cyberpunk, thriller, monsters, and on and on, the broad scope of the science fiction genre offers us the opportunity to say "what if..." It is these explorations that add depth to our human consciousness and allow us to look at alternatives or a mirror into our present circumstances.

A writer sees through the lens of their experience and opinions. A good writer goes outside of themselves and creates situations, worlds, characters they don't necessarily like or agree with. It provides the opportunity to see a different perspective, but always it is filtered through the writer's own view. It can be difficult to set aside oneself to write from a different viewpoint, but in really getting outside of one's own perspectives, that character/culture/species can offer the writer and reader a contrast from which other characters/cultures/species can stand out. Depending on the purpose of the writer's vision, this can offer insights that one might not have otherwise considered. It's a matter of keeping an open mind on both the part of the writer and the reader.

And then there is the reader's perspective. A writer tries to portray a certain view, sometimes even changing theirs. (Stories that start out with well-thought and well-developed characters/cultures/etc. fall apart when a writer tries to force their hand into it and not let it develop more naturally from what was established up front.) A reader brings to a story their experience and opinions that color how they view a story and what they believe it should be. This may agree with or contradict the way the writer develops the story. But this is just a side note to where I'm going.

I love science fiction for its ability to explore anything, but I also love the science behind it. I love the logic and I love the ability to explore things that I couldn't in my life. I also love that science fiction can sometimes be more believable than real life.

One thing that has come to mind lately, which prompted this post, is an episode of Babylon 5 called "Infection". The episode is about an alien artifact that attaches to a man and transforms him into a killing machine intent on eliminating any being that wasn't "pure" of the species that created it. In the end, it was revealed that this symbiote destroyed the whole civilization, because no one was "pure". It seems almost prophetic to what we are seeing with cancel culture. Nothing is pure enough for them and as one set of opinions is wiped out, they go after the next, until there would be nothing left, because nothing is "pure" anything. It's all based on the individual's perspective, seen through the lens of their lives.

The episode is over 26 years old and had applied well to Hitler's vision for a "perfect" race, which I might assume to have influenced the idea. Here we are, decades later, and this episode is still relevant in our current cultural climate. It serves as a warning that if we don't change, our society is doomed to destroy itself. There has to be compromise and acceptance that nothing is perfect, nor will it be.

This is what I enjoy about science fiction--exploring the human condition by looking from outside out present circumstances to explore the many alternative possibilities of what may be. And in that, it speaks truth to our present condition.

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