A few quotes from around the web this last day or so made me think about why I love Science Fiction and what makes it interesting. As a kid, what made me gravitate toward Sci-Fi was the unknown, staring up into the stars and wondering what’s out there so far away. This led me to follow shows like Star Trek, where we would see different alien cultures, have to figure out how to interact with them, and yes, often times end up having to shoot our space-lasers.
With superheroes, it was imagining a human potential that’s far more than what we have currently, the ability to do absolutely crazy things that we would barely be able to conceive of. I remember Mark Waid’s run on The Flash, and how he took the concept of moving quickly and twisted it so that he’s vibrating so fast, it perceivably slows others down around him. He could read whole books and learn concepts like architecture in less than a day. He could vibrate so fast, he could go through walls. Those are both really entertaining to imagine, and out of this world conceptually at the same time.
Someone last evening brought to my attention a magazine cover from 1948 that evoked both out of this world sentiments and action, of course with a little sex thrown in. I was amazed at how instantly intrigued I was by what on the surface sounds like a fairly stupid story named “Queen of the Panther World”. I haven’t read it yet, but I intend on doing so when I have a moment. The cover here really does speak to fun:
Beyond Fantastic Adventures, a couple authors struck me on this topic with their internet commentary.
Brian Niemeier, author of the Souldancer series, posted: “Limiting sci-fi to speculating about foreseeable extrapolations of current tech just means writing lit-fic.” When put in that perspective, it does certainly sound like foreseeable extrapolations don’t jive with what I loved as a child above. On the flipside, I have been known to enjoy some of the more technical Arthur C. Clarke novels. My conclusion on this thought would be that if you want to limit yourself to what’s “real” for a certain project, by all means do so. To remain appealing, however, a limited Sci-Fi will require a heavy focus on plot and character to a different level than someone who adds a “fun-quotient” technical or supernatural concept to their Sci-Fi novel. The last thing you want to do is leave a reader bored.
The next quote I read was from Jody Lynn Nye’s Reddit AMA which speaks to the tone of work more than high concept. She said: “During the Great Depression, movie comedies helped people who were down because they had lost their jobs and homes, or had wounds or PTSD from WWI. Personally, I don’t like dystopias. I prefer uplifting stories. I intend to be the anodyne to the evening news. Please come to me if you need cheering up. That’s my intent.”
I found this interesting as I’ve been criticizing a lot of televised Science Fiction over the last couple of days for going too far into what they perceive as dark and edgy and not focusing on fun characters like shows past. For example, The Expanse or Battlestar Galactica often don’t give you moments where you have someone to root for, or can laugh out loud. You leave those viewing experiences feeling down. Contrast this to Farscape, where there are a lot of light moments, fun concepts and it still can hit those heavier emotion points as well. It’s about contrast. When you have all of one tone, they start to blend together. If you open your palette up to different emotional tones, your highs will strike higher, your lows will strike lower and you’ll have more lasting impact on your reader or viewer. It’s the difference between “I liked this and thought it was worth watching once, but I wouldn’t watch it again” and “I’ve watched this show five times and love this character more than anything!”
Simple things to think about, but in the end, science fiction stories are about being fun.