Genre Talks: Sci-Fi

As I promised earlier, talks about genre have now arrived in part. This is going to be mostly an opinion piece, but I’ll be sure to start including links to other interesting sites in the future. Today, I’ll talk about my personal favorite: Sci-Fi. I think it can be interesting to consider where it started, how far it’s come, and what we tend to expect of it. As a writer in Sci-Fi, these issues have a bearing on how I produce my work.

I am not a Trekkie. In fact, I don’t even think that Star Trek is that good. Some parts of it are, without a doubt, better than others. Shatner’s acting left something to be desired in the really old stuff, stuff my parents saw as teens. The original movies weren’t terrible. Really, I think they were quite satisfactory for the film standards of the time. When I first saw them as a kid, it was a pretty good experience. Still, there’s better stuff.

Similarly, Star Wars though there’s definitely a more special place in my heart for Star Wars. For one, it was far more intellectually accessible to me as a kid than Star Trek managed to be. Granted, Star Trek ran mostly as a television series, where Star Wars initially focused on the big screen. I’m sure that timing is significant here, as well. By the time I was old enough to potentially appreciate the former, it had already been on air for literally decades. That is a really huge history to approach as a newcomer. In contrast, the original three Star Wars films could fit into a longer afternoon. Easy in, easy out.

I bring up these cultural icons for a reason–a few, actually. Culture is a funny thing. I’m sure that most of us have heard about the legendary conflict between fans of Star Trek and Star Wars. The debate over superiority has been as hot as some political discourses on occasion.

As consumers, I think we tend to take our entertainment culture pretty seriously in the developed world. Sci-Fi has celebrated a real boom in my lifetime. The days of dangling spaceship cut-outs are long gone. Any Marvel movie proves that. Still, what counts as “Sci-Fi” tends to be another subject of debate, in addition to how certain forms of it should or should not look.

It’s useless to pretend that giant spaceships are a smaller part of the genre than they really are. It also seems fitting that with a subject as HUGE as space, we’d like to fill it with some comfortably large representations of human presence–hence, the Death Star, the Republic, the Empire and more. By imagining a future where we have a significant presence out among the stars, we soften that disquieting notion that there might not be anything else out there.

I appreciate a good space opera as much as any other Sci-Fi fan, but where my heart really leans is towards those stories that take place closer to home. Until discovery of extraterrestrial life occurs, if it ever happens, my concern is with people. We’re here right now and, God knows, we’ve got problems we can work on. So, that’s what I write about.

The Sci-Fi that I love most is that which is strangely close to where we are at this moment in time. The details of the power balances shift; country lines are redrawn; maybe the Earth has gone through catastrophic change… but it’s still home.

Talk about colonizing the moon or mars both excites and saddens me. A big part of me thinks it would be beyond amazing to live on a new world. But, a pointed and funny meme I recently saw simply said: “Great… Now people can be miserable on two planets.” I laughed… and then I frowned. This idea, however, ties right in with my interests as a fiction writer.

I write for entertainment, sure, but there are also other reasons I write. For one, it can be a great platform to at least talk about human issues. By keeping plots and setting closer to home, I feel that I can better raise the questions we should consider as part of the peoples of the world. Certainly, my fiction is meant to be a pleasant experience. But, can’t it also have humanitarian purposes?

I’ll be back with more talk on this in the future. Hopefully, this was able to provoke some thought for you good folks.

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