david gerrold

Speculative Fiction: The Lost Art of "What if?"

I feel alone lately as a fan of Speculative Fiction.  Many of the people I talk to have never heard of it, and others have had a hard time wrapping their head around the concept, so I have decided to talk about the lost art of speculative fiction.

Art of the Imagination

Speculative Fiction (SF) is the art of the imagination.  Any story, video, image, or song that answers the question, "What if?" is SF.   There are five main subgenres of SF:

  • Science Fiction
  • Scifi
  • Fantasy
  • Horror
  • Alternative History

I meet a lot of people who lack an imagination.  Most are not fans of SF, but what frightens me more than anything is the number of writers/would-be writers who don't have an imagination.

Many people believe that SF is easy to write, when nothing could be father from reality.  Great SF requires more imagination and work than any other genre of fiction.  Not only does the writer have to create a good story, but they also have to construct a new world that is internally consistent and filled with an immaculate reality that will engage the reader/viewer/listener in the setting and story.

The problem with the industry is that too many writers with little to no imagination have found employment making SF because their work is commercially viable to the mass market and lacks any of the qualities great or even good works should have.  They too often forget the one thing that SF should do:

Transcend Limits

Stellar Spire in the Eagle NebulaThe last time SF was popular in the mass market, a spirit of activism, adventure, and dream pervaded the works.  Not all of them, but enough for the the majority of SF fans to be satisfied with many of the films and series launched.  Since then, post-modern fiction styles have dominated print, television and movies, as a result the recent SF works have lacked any depth.

Pioneering SF writers/creators like Frank Herbert, Gene Roddenberry, Harlan Ellison, David Gerrold, et al, believed that SF could challenge peoples preconceptions and inspire them to transcend the limits imposed upon them by their upbringing and culture. They wrote and produced SF that attacked our sacred cows, presenting the world as it could/should be with all of the ambiguity and possibility that this world offers us.

This is the SF I love, produce and support. The trite cynicism that has again become en vogue is antithetical to this spirit of transformative fiction that inspired so many to fall in love with science and hope for a better world. It does not have to go this way. We must reclaim the spirit and art that made SF great.

The Search for Meaning

The root of the problem is simple:

  • We hope for a meaning and purpose for our lives and when we find that nature does not provide us with an easy answer we can slavishly follow after, we assume life is devoid of meaning and purpose all together. Nihilism is an easy trap to fall into, but is also an easy one to escape.

Sure, life has no grand overriding purpose... or does it? Life seems to exist to survive, thrive, and evolve. With the exception of evolution, these are not very inspiring goals, but the urge to better ourselves and grow throughout our life is a fundamental function, if not purpose of existence.

This is no reason to despair. The fact that life does not impose a purpose on us allows us to find or invent one for ourselves. What a liberating gift from the universe! We are free to choose our purpose and to find meaning for ourselves.

Now, I won't lie to you. This is a burden to bare, there is no doubt about that, but it is a burden that is easy for us to take up, if we choose to live boldly.

For too long, we have lived our lives under the constraints and limitations placed upon us by society. We have to rise above the nihilistic stupor, and make the world we want to live in.

Let's All Dream Again

We have to rise up, stand up, speak out, and most of all dream. If we do not, then the future is indeed lost, but not because of destiny, but because we have let it follow that path.

Dream again, and dream big. Find something to be for, not something to be against. We are strong and imaginative enough to rise above any darkness that comes upon us. Rise up! Let's take our future back!

This post was inspired by The Lost Art of Speculative Fiction, which I originally posted on March 14, 2008.

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The Lost Art of Speculative Fiction

fiction-thumb.pngWhen I was first getting into Speculative Fiction, it had a spirit of activism, adventure, and dream to it that so much modern fiction simply lacks. Pioneers in this field, Frank Herbert, Gene Roddenberry, Harlan Ellison, David Gerrold, et al, believed that SF could challenge peoples preconceptions and inspire them to transcend the limits imposed upon them by their upbringing and culture. They wrote and produced SF that attacked our sacred cows, presenting the world as it could/should be with all of the ambiguity and possibility that this world offers us. This is the SF I fell in love with and endeavor produce and support. The trite cynicism that has again become en vogue is antithetical to this spirit of transformative fiction that inspired so many to fall in love with science and hope for a better world. It does not have to go this way. We must reclaim the spirit and art that made SF great.

The root of the problem is the basic existential quandary we each experience in our time. We hope for a meaning and purpose for our lives and when we find that nature does not provide us with an easy answer we can slavishly follow after, we assume life is devoid of meaning and purpose all together. Nihilism is an easy trap to fall into, but is also an easy one to escape.

Sure, life has no grand overriding purpose... or does it? Life seems to exist to survive, thrive, and evolve. With the exception of evolution, these are not very inspiring goals, but the urge to better ourselves and grow throughout our life is a fundamental function, if not purpose of existence.

This is no reason to despair. The fact that life does not impose a purpose on us allows us to find or invent one for ourselves. What a liberating gift from the universe! We are free to choose our purpose and to find meaning for ourselves.

Now, I won't lie to you. This is a burden to bare, there is no doubt about that, but it is a burden that is easy for us to take up, if we choose to live boldly.

For too long, I have lived my life under the constraints and limitations placed upon me by society. I allowed myself to fall under this nihilistic stupor, but I have had enough.

This is why I am not a fan of Battlestar Galactica or Heroes. They have followed this cynical path into a nihilism I find neither sophisticated nor mature. It is solipsistic and puerile. Yes, life can be dark, but no one benefits from wallowing in that darkness.

When I was growing up, I became an avid fan of Goth Rock, Deathrock, Punk, and Metal. At their bests, these genres are about rising up and railing against these cynical worldview foisted upon us. "Only Theatre of Pain" (Christian Death) is the music of defiance, not acquiescence. Black Sabbath sang in anger at the darkness of life. At their best, these are songs about standing up and not about being trodden under foot.

We have to rise up, stand up, speak out, and most of all dream. If we do not, then the future is indeed lost, but not because of destiny, but because we have let it follow that path.

Dream again, and dream big. Find something to be for, not something to be against. We are strong and imaginative enough to rise above any darkness that comes upon us. Rise up! Let's take our future back!

Gerrold on Trek

My hero, David Gerrold recently did an interview with the Courier Mail on his thought about the original Star Trek Series.  First, he explained the two factors that he believes lead to the success of the original series:

"First, we had such a remarkable cast...  Gene Roddenberry picked three very, very good actors and they fit together so beautifully," he says.

"And then the second thing is, the context of Star Trek is that here's a world where everybody is respected and everybody has a place in this world and people are all big enough to handle their problems, and so they focus on problems of a much larger scale and challenges of a much larger scale (Courier Mail)."

I have to agree.  I think the phenomenon of Star Trek is that we fans really do want to live in that world and try to live in accord with the values we see in the series.  The vision of a world where people are free from their relatively petty problems to delve into the deeper meaning of life and justice resonates within us.

Gerrold also points to the creativity of the original series:

"And they would come up against new people and new planets that would challenge their definition of themselves, it would make them ask the question 'what does it mean to be a human being? What are we up to here?' And I think that was part of the appeal of the show: we're discovering not only what's out there but what's inside ourselves, and that the final frontier is really the human soul, not space – space is just where we're gonna meet the challenge," Gerrold says (Courier Mail).

Gerrold hit the nail on the head.  I know the stories that I enjoy writing most are the stories that did into why people are the way they are and why they do the things they do.  The potential of the soul is truly the final frontier.

News that the next Star Trek feature film... will revisit a young Kirk and Spock is heartening for Gerrold.

"If it were my choice I would reinvent the original series," he says.

"Wipe the blackboard clean and you go back to Kirk, Spock and McCoy and the Enterprise, with new actors to find different interpretations of the characters. And I think there's a possibility, just as we've see different interpretations of Superman and Batman, maybe that's how Star Trek is gonna survive (Courier Mail)."

Well... I like the new Superman.  I think the creator of the new Batman should be horsewhipped until they beg for forgiveness.  And while the new Battlestar Gallactica is technically brilliant, the story is so dark I want to kill myself at the end of each episode... I just stopped watching the series.

Like any good myth, I know there will eventually be new versions of Kirk and Spock, but the brilliance of Star Trek was the optimism and adventuresome nature of the characters and the setting.  If it were to loose that it would become Voyager or Enterprise, and suffer their fate.  Gerrold opened my eyes to the possible benefits of a remake, but I would prefer to meet new characters in the time of Kirk and Spock.

Direct to DVD Star Trek Project

Join Trek United's campaign to bring new Star Trek episodes to DVD!

Variety notes that unlike many studios who limit original DVD releases to projects acquired by outside producers, Paramount will develop and produce its own projects. Pittleman said that the facilities mirror the theatrical division, though most of the studio's DVD movies are shot in 21 days.”

Paramount’s production facilities could easily turn out an Enterprise direct-to-DVD movie or mini-series and have it available for the September 8, 2006 Anniversary.

Our project will entail sending either postcards or DVD cases to Paramount’s around the world. The DVD cases ideally would have a cover label and would be sent in plain business mailer. It is the best way to get by the mailroom (Trek United).

This is a good idea as long as Rick Berman, Michael Piller, Jeri Taylor, and Brannon Braga have nothing to do with it! I think we should make it clear that we want Majel Barrett-Roddenberry or maybe even Rod Roddenberry... David Gerrold... D.C. Fontana... Anybody but the idiots that have been involved.

The main target for this campaign would be:

Mr. Thomas Lesinski President Paramount Home Entertainment Inc.

5555 Melrose Avenue Los Angeles CA 90038 United States

We should also include our two CEO’s

Mr Tom Freston Viacom International 1515 Broadway New York NY 10036 USA

Mr Leslie Moonves Viacom, Inc. 7800 Beverly Blvd Los. Angeles, CA 90036-2112 USA

[Trek United]

For international addresses, visit the Trek United campaign page

David Gerrold Joins New Voyages

One of my heroes, David Gerrold, has joined the production team of the Star Trek Fan Series: New Voyages.

David has two stories on line, “The first is a re-worked Blood and Fire, which was originally pitched for TNG, but ultimately rejected for it's controversial storyline, dealing with an AIDS-like virus and homosexuality (New Voyages).”

Blood and Fire has also been turned into a brilliant Star Wolf novel. This is an exciting bit of news. He joins D.C. Fontana (great writer) and Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Rand) on the series.