Being Human: Science-Fiction and Me

A long time ago, I was in a hotel room with my family.  It was late at night, and we were sitting up in our beds watching something on the television.  It was on the sci-fi channel (now known as Syfy), and it was some kind of movie I believe.  I don’t really remember what it was, but I remember being absorbed in it.  It’s a strange sensation, having something leave such a stamp on you but being unable to remember much about it.  Chalk it up to me being really young I guess.  But that night remains a powerful reminder that I am, and probably always will be, an avid fan of science-fiction.

It’s always something I’ve been drawn to, for many different reasons.  It’s not like I particularly hate any other genre.  They all have their place in the world, but I will say that sci-fi has always held a special place in my heart.  Part of the reason for this is its versatility.  Science-fiction can be found in a lot of different places, and encompasses a lot of different ideas.  Most people probably think of sci-fi as having to do with aliens, and while that is true, it’s only a small part of the whole.  It’s a wide-ranging genre, tackling topics such as robots, consciousness, dreams, time travel, and parallel universes to name but a few.

Even stories or movies that aren’t strictly classified as science-fiction can have elements of it within them.  Take the television show Awake for example.  Most people wouldn’t consider Awake to be a science-fiction show, because on the outside it has the air of a gritty crime procedural.  However, this interpretation does the show a disservice.  Awake is a television show about a detective who experiences a terrible car accident.  After the accident, he seems to live in two separate realities: one where his wife died, and the other where his son died.  The show is primarily about the interplay between these two realities, and their effects on the main character.  It’s a very bizarre twist on a traditional cop drama, and it’s absolutely brilliant.  It’s a shame the show only got one season.

Shows like that prove that sci-fi is one of the most flexible genres out there.  But that’s not the only reason why I love it so much.

Going along with the versatility aspect, science-fiction has the capacity to address so many different themes.  One of the more major thematic issues that sci-fi tackles is this idea of “being human”.  What does it mean to be human?  Why do we do what we do?  Where is our place in the universe?  Questions like these have plagued mankind for centuries upon centuries, and sci-fi gives us an opportunity to explore those issues.  Many stories that I’ve read deal with what humanity does when pushed to the brink, showing us the conflicting nature of ourselves.  Humans are capable of great kindness and terrible evil in equal measure.  And science-fiction helps remind us that the two are not always as easy to separate as we think they are.

From the grand space opera to the alien invasion all the way down to the sci-fi tinged procedural show, this theme of “being human”  is often on display.  Where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going are all equally important.  Science-fiction often shows us a possible glimpse at the future, be it dark and despairing, or light and Utopian.  It allows us to see where things could go wrong, or give us something strive for.

Despite the wide breadth of thing science-fiction has to offer, being a fan of it is often frustrating.  Much of this has to do with the lack of originality in modern science-fiction.  Despite my championing of its flexibility, I have to acknowledge that a lot of science-fiction these days tends to harp on the same few things.

Much of my complaint has to do with the immense volume of alien invasion stories.  Because apparently aliens have nothing better to do than travel hundreds of light-years to invade and destroy the human race.

In the last decade or so, I’ve seen more than my fair share of alien invasion movies come out.  There was even a remake of War of the Worlds back in 2005 starring Tom Cruise (which was a very good remake).  While not all of these movies are instantly bad, it has the same issue that horror movies about demons do (on a side note, horror and sci-fi share similar origins, and often go hand in hand).  Through too much repetition comes boredom.

I mean imagine if aliens actually did show up to our planet and decided to take a look at our culture.  I couldn’t really blame them if after a cursory glance at our movies they came to the conclusion that any attempts at first contact would be met with “ZOMG FIRE TEH NUKES!”

Although if our military commanders started speaking internet slang, we’d probably blow ourselves up long before any aliens actually arrive.

But I digress.  Science-fiction has so much more to offer us than just bland alien invasion plots.  Take the idea of parallel universes for example.  The television show Fringe was one of the only works of sci-fi in recent years that actually delved into the idea of a parallel universe in great detail, with much of the show’s main plot revolving around the interaction between the two worlds.  In most television shows, a parallel universe was used in a random, one-off episode where the characters ended up in a world where the alternate versions of themselves were inherently evil.

It’s hard being a sci-fi fan when a lot of modern science-fiction is just plain bad.  It seems like the trendy thing to say, but I feel like it’s true in a lot of ways.  In much the same fashion as the horror genre, modern science-fiction tends to recycle the same basic tropes over and over again.  It’s also difficult because the general trend for sci-fi television these days is that most shows get canceled only a couple of seasons in, leaving you with a cliffhanger that will never be resolved.

Science-fiction still has its place in the world.  But we need to explore its various facets more than we are.  We need to become more open to different styles of stories, rather than just the same few recycled and remade over and over ad nauseam.  The popularity of movies such as District 9 proves that people are able and willing to accept something more complex than “aliens bad, shoot them”.  People are ready and even crying out for something new to sink their teeth into, something unique to feast their eyes upon.  The task falls upon the shoulders of the storytellers, those who create the movies and the books that we digest on a daily basis.  We’re heading in the right direction, we just need to keep the momentum going.

And that’s all for this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post as always.  Have a great week everyone.