While reading an article entitled Why Sci-Fi Matters it got me thinking about Gravity City and where it falls on the sci-fi spectrum. It even got under my skin a little because of how one-sided the author comes across in the article at times. I'll argue that there's an audience for all types of science fiction because it's true. And why shouldn't there be? Variety is the spice of life. Granted, some genres are more popular than others for their own reasons. I think it would be irresponsible to say that one is better than the other just because one is more philosophical and invokes sophisticated ideas. Maybe one genre could just be about space ships, laser guns, and kissing sexy alien girls. There is certainly a place for all of it. I think as long as anything is well done and is honest, who cares? Of course, you have piles of irredeemable dog shit out there that isn't worth defending. A story without cohesion or meaningful context is completely useless, no doubt about that. Again, all subjective. Enjoy the ride for what it is. Now, let's define "Better". Star Trek fans sometimes frown upon Star Wars because it's not high-concept science fiction and it's geared toward children. But is it better? Is it not apples and oranges? The difference is that Star Wars is sci-fi fantasy and like Star Trek, it's resonated with millions of fans around the globe. But it's in your right not to like one or to like both. DC fans don't like Marvel for some of the same reasons - some feel that the content isn't mature enough. I've never understood the need to choose a side when it comes to these things. I personally am not a fan of Harry Potter, but I don't see why you shouldn't be. Have at it if it works for you. Why can't everyone have a seat at the table without the bullshit scrutiny? Let's get on with the article...
"Many people won’t read science fiction. They have the idea that it’s all warp drives and space battles and bizarre aliens and they just don’t want to read that. It’s too far out for their taste."
(I disagree. Show me proof.)
The best science fiction, the science fiction that lasts, examines our society as it is and extrapolates out to what it might become. It issues a warning to all of us to understand the path we’re on and to reassess whether we want to stay on that path.
(I can show you examples where preachy science fiction is a chore to get through and doesn't work).
The best science fiction is “thinking” fiction. It challenges us at the same time it entertains. The same can be said for all types of fiction, I suppose. But too often in modern fiction the goal is merely to entertain. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t feed the soul the way good science fiction does.
(Again with the "science fiction isn't good if it isn't brainy" nonsense. Why can't it just be creative?)
Science fiction – good science fiction – opens a window to our better and worse selves. It examines how we build societies and how we tear them down. It makes us appreciate our accomplishments and forces us to face our fears. And it generates ideas that later become reality.
(Science fiction should be inspiring, but it doesn't always have to compel one to reevaluate their life or have an epiphany about societies).
Further, I suspect more people like science fiction than are willing to admit it. They just don’t want to read it – they want to watch it on the big screen. Look at the prevalence and popularity of science fiction films throughout the past forty years. Ever since Star Wars redefined the genre in the 80s, science fiction has done extremely well at the box office.
The problem with movies, of course, is that special effects can distract from the story rather than enhance it. If done well, special effects make a movie powerful, but if the CGI takes over, then the ideas behind the story can get lost.
(I agree. However, the same can be said about writers who bog their stories down with vocabulary that is too technical and slows the story to a lull. He makes this point below.)
In a book, the same dynamic holds true. If the focus is too heavily on the tech side of things, the ideas get lost. But if character is allowed to take center stage, if ideas are allowed to propel the action, then science fiction can be great. The end.
Now, do you see why I have a problem with this article? I don't mean to target this writer because it's not personal, and he's entitled to his opinion. It's when the author unnecessarily draws lines in the sand and suggests that fiction isn't good unless it provokes you to think about the world around you and a future that-could-be. "THINKING" Fiction. Well, that's all well and good, but you know what? Not everyone reading these stories are aspiring brain surgeons or rocket scientists. Not everyone watching or reading science fiction want to intellectualize all the bits and pieces or take them apart and put them back together again until they're blue in the face. They just want to suspend their belief for a while and have fun. There is nothing wrong with that. It's called escapism entertainment and the fantastical. Junk food for the mind.
It's great that hard science fiction can and will challenge you to think outside the realms of the norm, nurture new ideas, and push boundaries. Hopefully, children will read these stories and one day excel in their field, break down walls, and change the world with their inventions and ideals for the better, as they've done before. That would be lovely because this world sure needs them. But does that truly make a great story for everyone? NO.
I know for a fact that I will never be stranded on Mars growing greenhouse potatoes to survive. I'm just here to see how that Watney guy gets off the damn planet. I don't care about the engineers on LV-426 or Midichlorians or Kyber crystals. I don't care about what makes light speed, time travel, or beaming back to the Starship Enterprise possible. Superman flies, but I never questioned how he did it. I never questioned how flying rugs and genies worked. Hells yeah, it's intriguing knowing how the sausage is made - even if it's for pretend. Yes, the information should be available for those who want to dive in and explore these concepts on a deeper level. More power to you if you already know. But to say that it's bad fiction if those details weren't addressed in a provocative, intellectual way is simply... ignorant. I may be coming across as simple and ignorant myself in this blog, but I just have issues with artists and creative-types shaking a finger at the audience for liking what they like and cramming REAL SCIENCE into every-thing just to validate or shoot down what is happening before your very eyes. You're going to let sounds in space ruin a movie for you because of reality? Pfssh.
So, I will tell you what makes GOOD FICTION, and this where I will agree with the author of the article. Good fiction, no matter what the setting is; if it's a time period in our known history or if the stories take place in a galaxy far, far away, it's about the characters and the challenges they must face in the world that they live in. Growth, bonds, obstacles, discovery, beating the odds - this is what will resonate with readers and moviegoers the most. They must see something inside those characters that they see and feel within themselves - the longing for adventure, love, success, hope. Revenge? Betrayal. Good vs. Evil, David vs. Goliath, Go Where No Man Has Gone Before! No matter how you dress it up, there are constants in all stories that make them good and great, no matter how many times the tropes are recycled. Living vicariously through characters is a winning formula because we are them and they are us. The moment that you write a character or a story that doesn't somehow connect back to us, or write in a way that's too "inside baseball" for the audience, your story is doomed - unless you're writing instructions for IKEA. "Smart" means nothing without the heart. To say something is not good if it's not for the "Thinking" man is bad thinking because it sounds like you're negating emotions as a necessary tool to tell a story. Here are couple of examples I like -
Example #1: E.T. - Boy encounters an alien stranded on earth, they become friends, and now the boy and his siblings have to find a way to get their alien friend back home to his family. They used a freakin' Speak n Spell, a coat hanger, and a record player to contact a UFO. They outsmarted government agents so their alien friend could get away. Of course, that would never work, but what's the heart of the story? That's what matters. Simple and sweet. I want an alien friend with Force powers. What kid wouldn't?
Example #2: The Thing - A team of American researchers encounter a shapeshifting alien in the harsh conditions of Antarctica and have to band together to survive the night on a small compound. Is this about the alien or the men who are put to the test in ways they've never imagined? I completely forgot that the men were even researchers halfway through the movie. They could've been a Scandinavian volleyball team and it wouldn't have mattered.
Example #3 - Star Wars: A New Hope - Even though politics played a big part in Star Wars, it never got in the way of the characters' arcs in the original trilogy. Lucas gave it to us in spades in the prequel trilogy, though. Boring.
P.S. Don't get me started on TRON. I love that film, but getting your consciousness zapped into a computer and having Frisbee fights with AI isn't happening in our lifetime, nor do I think is possible. Cool idea, nonetheless. I will watch that movie as many times as possible.
What I'm trying to say is, no one can tell you what "good" science fiction is or should push aside the magic of make-believe or the mystery box just because it's goofy or because it isn't possible (yet) in real life. Enjoy whatever you want. Rant over.
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