I made a covenant with myself a handful of years ago. Which is not unlike a New Year’s resolution, but for no particular ideological reason.
I decided that I would no longer write fantasy or sci-fi genre fiction. Instead I would focus on the real world in my speculative fiction, real mythologies, and real history. It sort of turned into my niche, actually, I now write novels that take place anywhere between the Bronze Age and 1940s Canada.
My reasoning was this: the fantasy genre is consumed with downstream Tolkien and no matter how hard we try we have to be George RR Martain to break the stream. It’s too difficult to fight the stream and not worth it, when the same stories can be told in mythological settings and with human history.
Secondly, science fiction was in a stream of space opera that was so overdone there were no unique or interesting ideas anymore. Again, it’s just better to take those concepts that normally would have fit in a space opera and transform them into a mythological, historical or realistic human setting.
You see, I’d been jaded. Having been immersed in speculative fiction for my entire life I stopped seeing the difference between ideas in books and movies. It all looked like the same stuff. In fact, I went so far as to create a world building community (which I long ago abandoned but still seems to be thriving at basilicus.wikia.com) that’s entire purpose was to consolidate all of these separate but similar ideas into one easy to navigate infrastructure. Much of my original space opera content still lives on that site–and to those that support it and keep that community thriving, I owe the world to you, I hope to some day come back to a supporting role.
However, I digress. The covenant was made, because as a writer, forcing my spec-fic ideas into a human paradigm is both difficult and rewarding. It forces me to examine what makes us human, the similarities and differences beteween our cultures, mythologies and religions. It gives me a much broader perspective on what makes us tick. Something not easily accomplished when one is making up worlds and the people who live in them.
Then one fateful night, not two weeks ago, I discovered that the entire Star Trek The Next Generation series was on Hulu Plus. And since those of you that read my blog know that I have this at home…
…The idea of watching Star Trek The Next Generation in its entirety from my iPad was startling awesome, I forgot to do anything else since. Speaking of which, there’s a strange smell coming from the kitchen.
Now, I’m not new to the Star Trek franchise. I’ve watched the original and Next Generation in my formative years, but basically stopped after that. I was a huge fan of the movies as well. But that said, I was always a Star Wars guy.
I liked the epic sweeping space opera genre and relished in the western-in-space motiff. It didn’t bother me that there was absolutely nothing accurate (scientifically or otherwise) about the franchise, nor did I care that the writing was … well, let’s just say it isn’t Arthur C. Clarke.
But it was adventurous, fun and impossible to dispell until Lucas drove the bus off the road and created the prequel series. But I’m not going to get into that. The point is, I couldn’t see a different approach to Star Wars that would work in my fiction, so I decided to leave the genre and remain only as a spectator.
When I first watched Next Generation, I was a kid and most of it flew over my head, much like the Ferengi in neutral space. But there are a few things I remember, and I thought it was a good show.
Now that I’m watching it with adult eyes, it has completely shifted my perspective on the genre entirely.
What Star Trek does, that no other series in recent blockbuster sci-fi franchise memory accomplishes, is focus on the human experience as its subject matter. It is done masterfully.
You see, the humans in Star Trek have reached the best they are ever going to be. They represent what our ideal is for the most perfect human. Ethics, diplomacy, and technology at the apex. THEN, shit is thrown at them. Okay, perfect human, how do you handle this, or that… so you think you are so perfect, have fun with this epic moral dilemma. The series, show after show, tests the limits of the ideal human to the point where it is maddening.
After watching show after show in the past ten days, I feel like I’ve seen a series of passion plays that I’ve been viewing under the Bodhi tree.
So that’s the secret then. If only I can apply these concepts to space opera, I’d be set. That and the striking realistic nature of the technology and science as well. I may be onto something.
Camp NaNoWriMo is just around the corner…