Tuesday, April 3, 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.