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Believable Sci-Fi an oxymoron
By Gloria Diaz
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Fort Wayne Reader
Science fiction is not one of my favorite genres. For me, it has to be believable, or else I can't get into it. But what I consider “believable” seems to be a much higher level than the majority of science fiction writers/creators want to aim for. When I think about it, the only science fiction I've been attracted to seems to be the only kind that I can believe. When friends try and steer me towards their personal faves, that's when I wonder, “how the hell did this crap ever get made?”
There are some things I can tolerate, of course. I'm somewhat bothered that a cocktail waitress on a sitcom can afford a three bedroom apartment in Manhattan, but I tell myself maybe she inherited it. Maybe she's sleeping with the landlord. To me, the best fiction, whatever genre it may be, is something that seemingly could happen. I can buy a tyrannical government, draining its outlying districts of food and raw materials so it can live high on the hog, and also force children to play an annual game to remind and punish the districts of their failed rebellion, but for the life of me, I can't get into Star Trek. Or Star Trek: Next Generation. Or Deep Space Nine. A blind navigator? Come ON! Okay, so probably they have something like GPS, so they don't run into a planet or wayward spaceship, but I can't help but think of the irony of it all. In the movie Pecker, an art gallery owner brings her new discovery to Pecker's party. The new discovery is a blind photographer, who exults, “I feel portraits! And I smell landscapes! No more focusing!” A few minutes later, while he stares vacantly into space, his camera clicks wildly. It's no P.C. moment (John Waters is not known for good taste) but the idea of a blind photographer IS funny. And that's why that particular moment worked.
The first three Star Wars movies, back when I was a child, entranced me, because it all seemed like it could be real. “A long, long, time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...” sets up the scene. This is an advanced society far from here. Okay. So they are not going to be like us. The non-human creatures were animal-like enough—no half human, half giraffe hybrid to wonder what some poor animal husbandry major had to deal with. I hate it when a mostly human creature has some scar to indicate he's a mutant. Doesn't work for me. At the rate we're going, I expect future humanity to wear glasses, be overweight, and do everything the television tells them to do, until a group of vegetarian/vegan exercise fanatics takes over to rebuild the world's population. Now THAT I can see happening.
Years ago, a friend had me watch all eleven episodes of Firefly, a space western. I had a feeling I'd hate it, and I was right. If a show is canceled before the twelfth episode airs, it's going to suck. (Ever hear of Turn On? I rest my case.) I couldn't get into a show where the captain seemed more wishy-washy than Charlie Brown. Where did he get that ship? I'm thinking mom bought it for him. Then, there's the jerky hired gun, Jayne Cobb, who should obviously be the alpha male on the ship. The mechanic (non-ASE certified, as she has no formal training) keeps the ship running through Zen and the art of engines, apparently. Right. The pilot went to flight training to see the stars; he couldn't see them on his polluted home planet. Don't they have planetariums in the 26th century? I guess the Chinese/North American government (WTF?) eliminated them all. There are assorted other people stuck on this ship; a sort of Gilligan's Island without the humor, quirky characters or wacky guest stars. Perhaps if Firefly had taken a humorous look at space westerns, it might have survived. And the Chinese cursing doesn't make sense to me either. My father, fluent in both English and Spanish, always, ALWAYS reverted to his native tongue to swear. To this day, the phrase, chinga tu madre, maricon, brings a smile to my face, because it reminds me of dad at his angriest. I find it hard to believe these mostly Caucasian space ship dwellers curse in Mandarin when they're ticked off. I don't remember a single episode of this series, but what stood out like a black eye (to me at least) were the improbable situations/people/languages that made this Joss Whedon creation memorable, but not the way he intended.
People and animals evolve, but I can't quite believe there would ever be a hybrid of pig and unicorn; a sort of unipig who farts silver dust and cries gold tears. I also can't imagine there could be a human/bald eagle cross who would revolutionize the world of gymnastics. Some things and situations I can make exceptions for, but fewer things drive me nuts than science fiction that's unbelievable, moves at a snail's pace, and ten minutes into it, you're wondering, “why are these people riding on a spaceship that runs on dried leprechaun blood, who are speaking pig latin, running away from unipigs crying gold teardrops and farting silver dust? Is it because their psychic space ship mechanic is not ASE-certified?”
But enough about YOUR favorite science fiction epic…