It is not much of a confession to admit I am a huge Sci-Fi nerd, always have been. A date once compared my apartment to a bookstore; that was not said charitably. Don’t care. I read Sci Fi and similar books because at bottom of it all, they are really not about science. They are Anthropology, they are really Sociology. They cover the biggest question of all: What If?
What if we built our society this way? What if we didn’t make X mistake? So many possibilities, all worked out for the reader.
Many days it can feel like the whole dang planet has taken crazy pills; is determined to only create a dystopia worse than what Orwell predicted. But I am comforted, because I know that we do still have so many other possibilities. We have a vast array of choices, and are smart enough to make them in time.
Let’s take a glance at some relevant Pop Culture and Sci Fi media. No way, no how is this list complete; or even comprehensive. But it may offer you some solace and perspective; will certainly offer you some fun. That’s in short supply these days.
We start with BSG, the TV show that inspired this post. Battlestar Galactica has everything! There is a plague, a rigged election, a villain who thinks that *they* are the victim, questionable tactics justified by larger goals, a wily opponent weaker than they appear… so many parallels to our modern situation. Those who liked it in 2004 should re-watch it.
The show’s ending was even more controversial than last summer’s Game of Thrones finale. I argue that those who hated it should re-evaluate it, in light of how prescient it was about current events. Every single episode is a meditation on Integrity and Honor; something I completely missed when it was first broadcast. We see, from several angles, what happens when ‘doing the right thing’ can lead to compromising one’s morals. Also, how those poor choices can be a path that leads People far astray from their goals. Luckily since it’s just fiction, nobody had to die for real to work out these big ideas and questions.
“Hindsight is 20/20; 2020 is hindquarters.” Most of the US west coast, and especially here in the SF Bay Area, has been blanketed by smoke for weeks. And this is the 4th year in a row we have been beset by large fires. Which makes the setting of Blade Runner 2049 about 21 years early, IMHO. At least, we can say that based on how the movie looked. I don’t actually know that last year we had any attack ships on fire near the Shoulder of Orion; but maybe I just wasn’t paying attention to current events.
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“Everyone was so shocked and panicky. No one knew what was ahead.” – Dorothea Lange
She was likely the greatest photographer working during the Depression, and we are lucky that most of her work survives to this day. It can teach so much; could not be more relevant to the present crisis.
The Avengers. Always, always, I have to point that we are not the endgame! It’s a catchy idea, a fun movie premise. But history tells us otherwise (and I’ll detail all that in a future post). OTOH, pop culture has surfaced some relevant Memes lately, so I’m including it in our list.
…and while I will promote a Marvel story, I’m also obliged to remind folks how evil Disney is… https://youtu.be/k3ynRXi7N7I
2020 would not be complete without a nod to The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Because it should be obvious that turning our great land into the theocratic dystopia of Gideon is a major priority for most of the Henchmen around Donald and his scary wife.
Meh… red is not my color.
“Earth Abides is a 1949 post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by American writer George R. Stewart. It tells the story of the fall of civilization from deadly disease and its rebirth. The story was set in the United States in the 1940s in Berkeley, California and told by a character, Isherwood Williams, who emerges from isolation in the mountains to find almost everyone dead.”
The Fifth Sacred Thing is a 1990’s-era novel by the writer Starhawk. Set largely in San Francisco after the fall of the US Government, it shows both dystopic and utopic possibilities and compares them against our actual reality. There is intrigue, folks living in peace without cops or even much of a government, a barren Los Angeles wasteland (of course), and lots and lots of bees.
Let us not forget the PERN series of novels, by Anne McCafferey. I mentioned in an earlier post about how these are about a plucky teen saving the world from a horrible virus, using Dragons. Timely stuff. But it bears mention that their entire society is run by the musicians. They are the leaders and decision-makers because they are seen as the most wise. An entire planet, a space-faring society, led by artists. How about that??!
A Door into Ocean, by Joan Slonczewski, is my favorite Sci Fi novel; by a large margin. It is nothing less than “Quakers In Space”. That is: there are super militaries, there are wondrous technologies, far away places…. all the things that Sci Fi trades in, but instead of the same-old same-old shoot ‘em up battles, the reader gets to see how it would play out if implacable foes go right up to the brink of disaster, and then work it out instead. AND THAT CHOICE IS EVEN MORE SATISFYING AND FUN THAN BLOWING EVERYTHING ALL TO HELL. No small feat of storytelling, let me tell you. (It’s also the sci fi novel that James Cameron stole the most from; for his silly Avatar movie, but that’s a tale for another day).
These ‘alt-future’ tales collectively bring us to Costner-damus, of course. That is, we in 2020 see the actor Kevin Costner now as some kind of modern Nostradamus soothsayer. His films, Waterworld and The Postman, were reviled and mocked in their own time. But look at either one’s synopsis today, and you can easily see that he read the tea leaves accurately. A mailman helps restore faith in the US government? A good swimmer saves humanity after global warming nearly drowns everybody? Get outta town, Costner-damus! He was spot on, dude.
Of course, we have to wrap this essay up with Star Trek. In all its forms, the franchise has become so large that it’s almost a parody of itself. There are in fact at least 2 excellent parodies: Galaxy Quest and The Orville. But for the moment, please put all that baggage aside. The core idea of the Star Trek franchise is simple and optimistic: We Can Do It. We can overcome our biases, our fears, and our hatreds. People criticize the show because it’s a “post-scarcity society”; therefore we could never be like them. But that only shows their ignorance – we have been a “post-scarcity society” as a planet since at least 1970! We simply mis-allocate resources, hoard them, and force people to suffer due to unfounded fears and greed. But there’s no need to do that anymore. We Can Do It.
“You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown– only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.” – Captain Kirk