The hope for something better

When Star Wars was first time released in the theatres, it was a smash hit. Part of the reason to this was that it offered hope and reminded that there is more to life than bitter stories and grim visages. American Graffiti did this too, perhaps even more so that Lucas thought. Similarly, Star Trek came out at a time when America was still working out its heftier social issues. After the Second World War it was not uncommon to see hatred blazing here and there, but in Star Trek people could work together for a better tomorrow, despite their flaws.

After Star Wars and the fall of New Hollywood, science fiction, exploitation and high fantasy became entertainment to the masses as Hollywood itself began to produce what used to be regarded as low-budget, low-brow movies. For someone who has lived in post-Star Wars all of his life, it is hard to understand the impact it did. SF was essentially relegated to a lower tier of film making and all space adventures and such were meant for kids. After Star Wars, and to this day, science fiction and its fantasy brethren are mass entertainment to the point of long time fans of certain stories demanding that the stories should cater to them. After all, they’ve been consumers of a media for whole of their life.

I’m not sure when science fiction began losing its light in the mainstream media. Perhaps it was the 1990’s eXtreme that did it. The first time I began to notice it was when the 2004 Battlestar Galactica hit the scene. Certainly it is a series that demands its high acclaim, at least early on, but the show seemed to lack hope of sorts. Rather than hopeful like its originator, the remake series was grim and dirty. A friend quoted it to be Science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction.

This was around the same time I noticed the lack of hope was with the revival of Terminator franchise. The future couldn’t be stopped. The doomsday will come, it just got postponed. You can’t change your fate. Whoever decided to undo the core message that Terminator 2 had essentially shot himself to the leg. The Terminator franchise has more potential to it than just exploring the same old story of mad computer sending cyborgs to past to kill someone. One of these stories could’ve been what happened during the Future Wars, before it was prevented. How Kyle Reese fought in it and how he was ultimately chosen to go back to the past. There is no negative validation in telling a story that, in-universe, was unmade.

This sort of thing has continued with the zombie boom, especially with The Walking Dead. It’s not a secret that there is a sort of wanting for a modern man to be set free of society and all of its demands. In a world where everything just breaks down and we can become our own masters of sorts again, things are easier and more straightforward. Or at least that’s how some have argued for me. It’s a poor argument, much like the argument for returning to a rural simplicity to live with nature. Mankind created tools to simplify our lives and to get rid off mundane tasks that would take hours to complete. Hell, this has gone to the point of libraries suffering due to the Internet offering all the knowledge it can hold, knowledge that we all know is more often biased than not.

Star Trek more often than not offered the lighter side of things. Or in case of Voyager, the crazy ass side. Deep Space Nine may be the most morbid of the current shows we have, but even that hold hope for humanity. Dr. Bashir was an insufferable character, who grew up to be something better. This is a good example how show writers took upon themselves to make the series superior by organically allowing the characters to grow to a better direction, whereas in Voyager everything was left to rot.

The Roddernberry Box was a rule set that put limitations on the writers during The Next Generation era. One of the main rules was that the main cast of characters couldn’t have conflicts with each other as humanity had supposedly grown out of this. No grieving, death has been accepted a cold fact of life by all. It’s not a pleasant box to work in, especially if you’re doing drama, but it did wonders to Star Trek, especially in hindsight. Here we have, holier than tho people who get taken down a peg or two by force mightier than them, enslaving part of their people for their own collective purpose. By the end of the series, these stiff and poorly written characters had grown to accept their faults and yet striving for something better. In Deep Space Nine we see Benjamin Sisko, a single father and a man who’ve lost his wife in a new frontier, struggling against his own ghosts and wants for the future. Ultimately Sisko moves on with his life, just as everyone else does around him.

Star Trek Discovery, for all intents and purposes, is Star Trek in name only. In an interview Sonequa Martin-Green described the series as bigger, rawer and grittier. Pretty much all the leaks on the Internet are talking about the series another reboot to the franchise and is more in-line with J.J. Abrams nuTrek/Kelvin timeline movies, as the series was done under a license that allowed creation of a parallel Star Trek product. All the descriptions we’ve gotten thus far from any and all sites does make STD look like a generic modern science fiction than Star Trek. Nobody thinks Star Trek should be raw and gritty. Not by a long shot. That’s for Galactica or Blade Runner.

Traveling to the Moon gave humanity hope as a whole. Star Trek tapped to this same core. Space travel has always given us a chance to look beyond ourselves as we are know, towards a better future. If we want to make it. Star Trek recognized people’s differences, yet celebrated them and allowed each person to become something better.  You could become something if you worked for it, you’ve given all the chances. The world depicted is utopia for a reason, though not even in a post-scarcity world things would go like that. People still would like to trade, money would be necessary. There would always be people better than you. Nevertheless, there was hope that things would get better, if we would go for it. Not by taking people down, but by allowing them to flourish.

Where am I going with all this? I’m not sure myself. By all means, there seems to be a wanting demand for stories of grim survival. However, I can’t place this haunting need for something with more lighter side of humanity.

Music of the Month; Lotus Turbo Challenge 2

Lately I have had some discussions with numerous people about the nature of realism in our entertainment. Some feel that realism, in many ways, is the sole best option with anything, be it portrayal of science or character design. Somehow I feel that the word fiction is lost nowadays to some extent to certain people the same way others wish to remove the cartoon element from their animations altogether. This isn’t distressing as much as it is depressing.

Hard science fiction is a self-contradicting genre to a large extent. It idolises the realism to the fullest length and practically demands the author to stick with what can be proved with scientific methods. Sounds all good and fine, until we get to the point that the genre itself allows to stray path from the realism and allows some plot device to be used despite whether or not it’s plausible or possible. Faster than light travel is the most commonly used device, yet it is by all means physically impossible task and only theories of it are about.

This is interesting as there are numerous things can be made to fall into the whole ‘one allowed device’ approach the hard SF has, which basically undermined the whole premise of the genre; why would you call yourself rooted in realism if you’re allowing complete fiction, even pure fantasy, to be used in the work?

With this speculative approach, a lot of series could fall under the flag of harsh SF. There are number of fantastic franchises that are completely logical within their world while allowing that one device. Something like Dunbine could be described as hard SF, as we could say that the one device it uses is the alternate world of Byston Well. This is playing within the boundaries, even if this is deliberately stretching the boundaries the way the authors won’t admit should be possible.

However, harsh SF mainly loves harsh, realistic science. The portrayal of human interactions and characters can be anything but real in some occasions, and many times I have found myself reading an interesting SF book with a premise holding numerous possibilities to be great, and putting the book down because the characters are idiots and act like puppets for the author to play with rather than normal humans. Sometimes they’re merely named archetypes, and certain events are forced on them simply because certain things ‘need’ to be there, like romance. Romance is, in the end, perhaps the most complained matter on the long and the most forced thing in fiction. Not to say that a SF works don’t usually have well written characters, however the juxtaposition between the science and humans often do clash, and sometimes in a very favourable way too.

Ultimately, hard SF is as much fiction, a fantasy formed in the human mind, as Moomins or FOX News.

Ah, but a Monthly Music post shouldn’t be this heavy handed. These are supposed to be more lighthearted than the usual stuff.

This months has been rather tight with my schedules and I don’t doubt it won’t let go any until the end, so some of the updates may be spastic and come out at an irregular interval. This is, of course, because of the interval where things start and end. Prioritising first things first is something we all have to juggle with. There’s some interesting stuff coming up, namely Muv-Luv Photon Melodies, of which I’d like to do a comparative package review with Photon Flowers. There’s a lot of neat little stuff that both of them design-wise, and that also gives me an excuse to scan most of the stuff for my own archives. Total Eclipse PC saw that pushback, and we can flip a coin if it’s getting another pushback at some point. Perhaps âge will step up their game with this and start working on Kimi nozo Muv-Luv again at some point.

Other stuff that are coming this way are some game releases. Ultra Street Fighter IV was released last Friday, and we really do need to ask whether or not this model of releases CAPCOM uses works nowadays anymore to the same extent. It should be also noted that CAPCOM has been making some updates for the Rockman Xover, which doesn’t amount of anything. The most high-profile thing regarding Mega Man as of late has been the upcoming release of Ruby-Spears’ Mega Man Complete Series DVD set. The Virtual Console releases barely amount to anything on the long run; they’re still the same old games released again.

In better news, the  2014 Godzilla is estimated to have grossed $507 663 953 worldwide at the moment. That’s slightly better than the 1998’s Godzilla  at $379 014 294. I expect the sequels to hit similar numbers.

Does fiction have the right to be fictional nowadays?

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.