A Problem for Science Fiction?

Science fiction is potentially facing a big problem.  Much of sci-fi is predicated on exploring the possibilities of science and technology…but technology has recently been giving us diminishing emotional returns.

For example, when most people think of the airport, they think of long lines, the annoyance of the TSA, the possibility that a passenger will be sick, and other inconveniences.  The fact that they would have had to risk life and limb to transverse the same distance not that long ago never inters their mind.

Or the internet.  Is it a vehicle for right-wing hate speech?  Is it building a mob mentality in our politics?  Is porn a health crisis (yes, it is)?  Would we be better without social media in our lives?  These are the questions people ask.  The fact that science can produce faster now that people all over the globe can communicate with each other sometimes falls by the wayside.  Sometimes we forget how lucky we are that we can share photos with loved ones several states away. laptop_computer_woman_stress_apple

The first smart phone was a breakthrough.  This years model…is just another in a long line of upgrades.  Sadly, the wonder is dropping off.

For all technology gives us, we are incredibly ungrateful.  This doesn’t mean technology doesn’t have its problems.  What it does mean known is that the visions of new technology that sci-fi offers are going to be perceived in a very different light than they were several years ago.

It’s also worth noting that certain technological limits are being run into.  No one expects hoverboards soon.  And space travel of the sort imagined by Star Trek or other sci-fi entries might be fundamentally impossible.

So what is a sci-fi writer to do?  One path is the route of dystopia, taking all the problems we see tech creating and inventing a nightmare.  A perfectly legitimate path, and, as I have discussed earlier, the willingness of sci-fi to imagine dark realities is one if its strengths.

That being said with the possible exception of horror, no genre should plan on being all dark all the time.  Stories should warn us…but they should also elevate us.

What sci-fi may need is a brand of science fiction more close to home (no teleportation or warp speed) that imagines how human beings might be able to make our now commonplace tech meaningful again.

Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed. -G. K Chesterton (kinda)

What applies to Fairy Tales can apply to sci-fi if we try.  And as our home planet starts warming up, we need to double down and fight for a better world.  The world has lots of problems, and tech is involved in a lot of them.  But that is why overindulging in pessimistic stories is a luxury we cannot afford.

Potential Writing Prompts:

  • What does a society that has solved global warming look like?  Who loves it?  Who challenges the new world order?
  • A scientific finding is unpopular, but the fate of a world (Earth or otherwise) depends on people accepting it.  How does your character bring people to the truth?
  • What does social media look like 200 years from now?  How do people keep it from being a vehicle for hate?

For all the problems our current world may have…its amazing what we have accomplished.  Sometimes we just need to pause and remember that.  If we do, we can build a better world.

I write Sci-Fi at MartianMuckraker.com

 

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Above Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

Image of Woman with computer by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

 

3 Strengths of Science Fiction Over Fantasy

Science Fiction.  Fantasy.  Horror.  Superhero.  Every geek proudly defends his chosen genre.  While art is always subjective, it can be interesting to explore how each genre has its narrative strengths…and pitfalls.

I love fantasy.  The Lord of the Rings is one of the greatest epics of all time, and, yes, I am a member of a Dungeons and Dragons club.  #WaterdeepDragonHeist #NoShame

But, I do feel that science fiction has some narrative strengths over fantasy, which is why that is genre I am currently dabbling in for my creative writing.  These are general patterns, there will always be outliers.

Strength #1:  Sci Fi Avoids the Messiah Complex (When Done Right)

Fantasy stories frequently have a messianic character.  Frodo.  Harry.  King Arthur.  The Pevensies. These “chosen ones” are a very common fantasy trope. There is a time and place for this type of storytelling.  I am a Christian and I do think that sometimes Providence calls people to certain missions.  These fantasy characters (at least in Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia) can serve a christological function if done right.

However, it can be hard to relate to these characters.  I don’t have a prophesy telling me what my role will be.  History is not micromanaged by prophecies or chosen ones.

Consider Star Trek.  Are the characters gifted?  Yes.  Are they in a unique position given the technological eliteness of the Enterprise?  Yes.  However one can more easily see oneself becoming a psychologist, like Troi, or an engineer, like Shorty, or a captain (albeit not of a Starship) like Picard than one can imagine being marked for greatness like Harry Potter.

Yes, some Sci Fi falls back on fantasy tropes (Star Wars, I’m looking at you). However Science Fiction generally does not need a “chosen one.” That makes the characters more relatable and raises the stakes.  If there is a prophecy, we can trust it will be fulfilled.  If a character is just one member of the crew among many…well they don’t have fate to shield them from danger.

Strength #2: We Can See Science Fiction Coming True

Wizards, as fantasy understands them, are not real and never will be real.  The crocodile is as close as we are ever going to get to a dragon.

On the other hand, the communicators of Star Trek have come true in cell phones.  The book burning world of Fahrenheit 451  is all too real in some countries (and will come to our own if we are not careful).  And while we may not have cyborgs, like in Ghost in the Shell, human beings are becoming more and more attached to technology and that technology is providing a new platform for warfare.  We may not be able to reanimate dead corpses like Victor Frankenstein, but the history of science is filled with less-than-ethical science experiments.

When we read fantasy we have to suspend disbelief.  When we read science fiction the scenarios are often all too real.

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Strength #3 Science Fiction’s “What If…”

Fantasy’s “What if” is often well…a fantasy.  People joke all the time about how they are “still waiting for their Hogwarts Letter.”  People wish they could go to Narnia.  People wish they were a wizard.  People wish they could find a genie.

With SciFi…it ain’t so simple.  Do you wish you had an X-gene?  Where your powers may be unstable, may cause you to kill your boyfriend if you kiss him, and will cause you to have to live in hiding from the fearful human population?  It may be cool to be an X-man…but not completely.

We don’t wish to be Katniss from the Hunger Games, or the humans under attack in War of the Worlds.  We don’t wish to be a Loonie from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.  Science Fiction makes it easier to pick “what if’s” that are blessings…and curses.  This can make it all the more exciting and believable.

Furthermore, fantasy often falls back on recycled Lord of the Rings knockoffs.  Elves, dwarves and dragons again and again and again.  Science Fiction’s need for novel “what if’s” has spurred a great diversity.  Just see the range from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Deep Space Nine, from the optimism of Star Trek to the crushing despair of Frankenstein. There is a massive difference between Xenomorphs and Klaatu from The Day the Earth Stood Still. 

I will go back to Narnia soon.  But for now, I will hear the prophets warning and celebrating an all too close future.

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Robot Image by Comfreak on Pixabay

Fantasy Image above by peter_pvw on Pixabay

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