Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

More theft but why not?

I stole this off a site called Cinemagorgeous. It's amazing...

The value of “Why Not?”

I like science fiction a lot.

I appreciate the name “science fiction” because it combines two things I very much enjoy. It’s a good name, though there is another term for the genre that is even better. “Speculative fiction.” That’s a descriptor that gets it just right.

Science fiction speculates. It asks new questions.

Realistic fiction has always been good at asking “why?” Why does a marriage fall apart? Why do people define themselves by what they do for a living? Why does a young person ruin a perfectly good relationship for no apparent reason?

These are good questions, worth asking. But they’re not the only questions.

One of the prime virtues of speculative fiction is that it has always been willing to ask not only “why” but “why not?” If things are this way, why are they not another way?

Most Victorians couldn’t possibly imagine going to the moon, but Jules Verne was comfortable asking “why not?” Of course, he had nowhere near the right answer. But he asked the question. So did the great filmmaker George Méliès when he (taking inspiration from Verne) made a journey to the moon the subject of cinema’s first science fiction film. And then of course the Russians shot Sputnik into space and a young president named Kennedy posited the same question with a whole new kind of urgency. And this time the question was ready for a real answer.

One giant leap for mankind, yes, but it was a mental leap that writers of speculative fiction (and their readers) had been willing to take before most sensible people would even entertain it.

Captain Kirk has a computer that he can talk to that will answer his questions. If he wants to know when something happened, or a bit of science he doesn’t understand, all he has to do is ask. A lot of us have a device in our pocket right now that does the same thing, but cellphones didn’t exist when the Star Trek design team were conceiving of them.

Good questions lead you to more good questions. Suppose humans were able to work together as a cohesive team in which people of all backgrounds were able to contribute equally? I mean, really, why not? Star Trek was willing to ask that question earlier than most, and asked it so potently that when Nichelle Nichols was thinking of leaving the show she was urged to stay by a man named Martin Luther King. He felt it was important that young black people were able to see Uhura on TV and feel that the human future was one they could be seen as participants in. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was very moved when Nichols told him this, saying he was glad someone understood what it was that he was trying to do.

King understood Star Trek because he was very good at asking important questions, questions that can change the way people think. “I have a dream…” is the beginning to one of the best “why nots” in history. Dreams are, by the way, excellent speculative fiction. They’ll take something seemingly implausible and run with it more than our waking minds would usually put up with. When we wake up we tend to shake our heads and dismiss it as a flight of fancy, but sometimes, a dream will leave us pondering the all important question. Surely such a thing could never be. But then again… “why not?”

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