6/19/2007

Science Fiction without Phasers

Before I proceed, I need to make clear that I am a big "Space Opera" fan. I watched all of the episodes of all the Star Trek venues, even Enterprise (which apparently nobody else watched.) I really appreciated Gene Roddenberry's emphasis, though, on character and strong storylines that were not totally dependent on phaser fire and photon torpedoes. Nevertheless, he did sell the series to NBC as "Bonanza in Outer Space."

However, science fiction is more than just action theater in outer space. Science fiction, though considered second class literature by many critics, is perhaps the most relevant medium for exploring the societal, ethical, moral and cultural issues facing the world in the coming years. Science fiction stories which may not include a space battle challenge the reader to "think outside the box" which contains their daily experience.

Looking to television, we saw the heyday of that type of science fiction in the 1960's with the classics
The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. The low budgets on these shows and the primitive state of special effects forced the producers to focus much more on character and thought-provoking story lines to hold their audiences. Some of the classic programs tell the power of "quiet" science fiction. Remember the Twilight Zone episode where a woman is having plastic surgery to correct her "hideous" appearance only to find that it didn't work, she was still the blonde, smooth complexioned, blue-eyed, "monster" who had to be sent away. Or what about the episode where at a certain age everyone was expected to choose one of the "approved" body types so they would not be different.

In print, I was moved and amused by "The Fun they Had" by Isaac Asimov where two children who are homeschooled in the future by computerized robotic teachers, discover a book that tells about the old days when all the kids went to school together in a building, were taught by a human teacher, and played together at something called "recess." They envied those "happy" students and "the fun they had" going to school.

Yes, I love to watch Captain Picard stand in front of the view screen and say, "Lock weapons, Mr. Worf. Fire!" but I think in some ways, I prefer to watch Commander Data struggle with his quest to discover the human quality of emotion.

It's all part of the rich tapestry of science fiction. One that I wanted to take some time to celebrate.

Speaking of Twilight Zone: Why not post your own favorite episode of the classic series. Feel free to post your favorite Outer Limits either classic or new.

3 comments:

Grace Bridges said...

So sorry - I'm not familiar with Twilight Zone at all... but I love Picard too, and Data just as you say. I've been watching some early Next Generation episodes this week (e.g. A Matter Of Time) and although some of the effects still seem primitive - Yes, I know, it was the nineties - I'm still enamoured with the mingling of technology and humanity to the point where the personal and technical crises are one and the same, irretrievably intermingled. Your classic sci-fi buff I guess. Trekkies for ever!

Mike R. from LGG said...

Well, I have a lot of favorite twilight zone episodes from the original series...

But the one that made a lasting "stylistic" impression on me was an episode from the late 80s, early 90s CBS/Syndicated run. It was called "The Shadow Man" about a young, bullied boy who met a scary dark figure who was a "Shadow Man from under his bed."

Fear was abated when the Shadow Man explained that it was his job to go and punish the bullies who hurt him. The boy saw the (violent) fruits of this over the next few days and he began to gloat and become a bully himself.

It ended when he was confronted by a Shadow Man... from under someone else's bed...

Terri said...

Mike-

You see that's a science fiction story in a secular setting that has a moral context. I wish I could get more Christians to write them. There's a message there, but without being heavy handed or preachy.

Another one I remember from that updated series (which did a credible job of translating Serling's vision into a modern setting) was one where a man brings a woman a box with a button. If she presses the button, someone will die and the man will give her $100,000. He emphasizes that the person will be "someone you don't even know." After agonizing through the night, she presses the button. The man immediately appears at her door with the money.

She asks what happened. He assures her that someone died. Then she asks, "What will happen to the box now." With a smile the man says, "It will be reprogrammed and given to someone else. Someone you don't even know."

Some good stuff.

Terri