Around a year ago I had a discussion with my friend about his upcoming book. The book’s going to be about humanity in space to continue his ongoing series. He aims to stick with realism with the spaceship, as in no fighters, high speeds and the ship was supposed to a have ship-long cannon that shoots stuff. Of course, there wouldn’t be hyperdrive because faster-than-light travel is unrealistic. Ohwait.
At one point we began discussing jet fighter designs in fiction, or rather what we had scribbled during our free time. The difference in the designs was that his was (arguably) more rooted on realism, whereas mine was more fictional. The arguments went from me having variable geometry wings that swept front and back as well as having them “the wrong way” ie. forward swept. His design was basically a flying wing, a tailless delta. Sure, Boeing has given out some concept art on what the next generation of fighters might look like, but we can’t really know what the next gen fighters are until they’re here. Chinese J-20 is a delta configuration fighter, and the Sukhoi PAK FA follows the suit, but the thing was that the design he had proposed was… well, to put it bluntly, it was uninteresting and rather ugly without any of the interesting bits real jet fighters have.
I felt really bad at the end of that discussion. He had clearly put a lot of work and thought behind his plane drawing, but so had I. The difference was just that I did something fictional in a fictional setting, and he was aiming for realism and didn’t like my approach at all. This was the second time I had to ask myself whether or not fiction can actually stay fiction nowadays? Why can’t fantasy be fantastical? Should different fictions become tales of series of facts? From science-fiction to science-fact…
The same question lifted its head last Sunday when I was watching Skyfall, the newest James Bond film. There’s a scene where the new Q says that they don’t do exploding pens anymore. Why don’t theydo them? Are they too expensive to manufacture? Have they been too hazardous? Why would they take away a piece of equipment that has saved lives of their agents multiple times around? Then, sitting there, I realized that what the film was saying to me was that it was too silly for this hardcore realistic setting. I liked the film alright, but my countering reaction to this one scene pointed every un-Bond characteristic of the film to me; less actual spy action, the wholly grim and dirty way certain things were made, the movie logic of finding an unchained chain on top of a moving train and discarding a handgun when there wasn’t any reason to do so. While Skyfall might be arguably better a film than its predecessors, its worse as a Bond film by far. Drop the British accent and change the main characters’ names, and you’d most likely end up thinking that it’s just another spy flick we’ve seen during the last ten years.
Is it that the skill to suspense one’s disbelief has been lost? No, people still watch more traditional fantasy movies and do not complain about anything. While I do like sword and magic stuff, I’m always bothered how certain points are presented. Magic especially, which has very few and rare good examples how it works in any given franchise outside certain video games. I do like how Final Fantasy VII presented them as power summoned through gems that are connected to the very life of the planet. Kalevala is my favourite over all in that it is the skill of singing that determines what happens and how strong. [Editor’s note: And the skill of using the power of words, too, in general. I always liked that too.] Then we have something like the Lord of the Rings, in which magic basically allows you to light up a light in your staff. Actually, Gandalf didn’t have to stay back on that bridge at any point. If we go by the movies, the bridge would’ve given away because it clearly wasn’t strong enough to carry a hulking hellbeast.
While some things just bother me in fiction, I can say “OK, this works as explained.” Why should I think more about it? Within the universe of this story this things exists like this, and there’s an explanation. Good, I’m content that they gave a reason for things to be. Now let’s see what the story does with these things.
I find extremely jarring when people ask me Why thing X exists in the story when thing Yis more realistic. Not because I don’t like to explain and give out information, but because most of these people are already in the point of not accepting any explanation because of their own idea what should be in their stead. Open mind is a golden virtue I do recommend for everyone to have, as it will not strain you or your conversation partner. There are also people who simply do not like something, and only wish them to go away within a setting, like the mentioned magic in some cases.
Overall, I found it dumb to complain about something that is fictional. Giant robots will never be reality or realistic, and yet we have loads of stories about them. Actual deep space travel will most likely never exist and yet my friend is writing about one. Vampires, werewolves and all other mythological things are not realistic at any point and yet we have dozens of franchises surrounding these entities. I never complained about Twilight having vampires because vampires are unrealistic to have and yet I’ve always wondered why the hell are vampires portrayed so badly in them. Truth to be told any author has a “right” to portray fictional characters as they please within their own works, even if it’s completely stupid. They design the characters and entities to work the way they do, and the audience has the final word whether or not the designed characters were good.
I don’t bitch about wuxia movies for having completely unrealistic fight scenes, rather I’ve sat down and enjoyed what’s going on in the scene.
There are some stories that are badly written and do not explain a thing. In stories there always needs to be a proper reason forwhy something exists, but even then the reader needs to have the suspension of disbelief to accept the explanation. Yet, it’s still fiction. If the explanation flows well in the story, why should it matter any further? Are we in such a sad point in history that we can’t enjoy what’s presented in front of us and ask something to be completely tied to realm of reality?
If so, then why are some of the most popular TV-shows so unrealistic in their approach to realism? For example, House would’ve been fired long ago from his job because of how he acts, no matter how good he is. Dexter has even less reason to actually go as long as it has, as there is no perfect murder, especially the way Dexter shows them. That, and the police investigators are not nearly as clueless as the show makes them to be. Don’t let me start with CSI or similar shows that just make my head hurt.
Honestly, I’m a bit pissed off now. I was completely calm before writing this and now I want to strangle a kitten. If you want your damn realism and things always making every kinds of sense, watch the news and go to the real world… and even then there’s far too many things that just don’t seem to work like they should.
Just… just accept what the story is giving at the time, and go with the flow. People should just enjoy stories first before starting to analyse them from every and all angles. This is rather difficult overall, when we’re taught to analyse everything from the ground up and pick thins apart bit by bit. It has become… well, the main way people can enjoy things any more. If you would start analysing Dredd 3D, you’d find it rather lacklustre film, but if you just enjoy it without starting to pick every little detail and error here and there, you’ll see that it’s a damn entertaining movie that has pretty kickass 3D effects (opinions way vary on that.) Enjoying things the way they are rather than thinking through them is a skill we lose as we grow. I wish more people would re-learn this skill a 4-year old has.
As such, fiction may still be fiction. We just need to stop thinking in limited way of it and start allowing the impossible to be possible. After all, that’s the case most of the time.