Why is Science Fiction so Arbitrary?
OK; I’m going to say four words and I want you all to join me: Beam me up, Scotty!
If you’re my age, that phrase does two things. First, it evokes fond memories of a warm childhood and a calm, simpler time. Second, it reminds you how sometimes so-called “quotes” are simply fabrications. The fact is, Captain Kirk never uttered those words.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like misquotes. I want the truth, as in sharper than a two-edged sword.
But I also love Science Fiction. I actually own every single episode of the original Star Trek series, including the lost pilot episode in full, vibrant color!
Therefore, I was shocked, shocked I tell you, when my wife revealed she thinks Science Fiction is arbitrary!
Exciting, suspenseful, entertaining, fascinating, thrilling? Yes, but arbitrary? That’s sacrilege!
After she made that heretical statement, though, deep inside my soul I pondered what she said, and began to realize she just might have a point.
For example, in one Star Trek episode a contingent of the crew is marooned on the surface of a frigid, barren, wind-swept, desolate, alien planet. They were stuck there because, as usual, the transporter’s computer malfunctioned.
You would think after centuries of tinkering, by the year 3113, scientists would have figured out how to keep computers from crashing. But based on Star Trek, I guess in the distant future, Bill Gates’ great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandson still won’t be able to figure out how to make a reliable computer.
Back to the story. To keep warm on this freezing planet, the crew members use their phasers to superheat rocks until the they glow a fiery orange, emanating desperately-needed heat.
Seems like a good idea, but strangely, this was the only episode where they used this technique. Maybe in the future because mankind has relied on smart phones for so long our memories will be so bad we won’t be able to remember anything for more than a week.
Something else I thought of, was if there were large rocks around, why didn’t they just use their phasers to slice the boulders into symmetrical blocks and build a rock-solid structure they could use for shelter? Once built, they could use their phasers to heat the walls of their rock igloo and stay warm and toasty for hours.
On another episode, the hapless members of the landing party find themselves on a lush planet overseen by highly advanced aliens who can read their minds. After analyzing someone’s thoughts, the aliens are able, in the blink of an eye, to create whatever was being thought of.
Some of the items which magically appeared included a giant white talking rabbit, ominous world war two fighter planes, and an obnoxious bully who terrorized Captain Kirk when he was young.
The thing is, once Kirk began to realize what was happening, why didn’t he just use his imagination to conjure up a machine which would explain exactly what was going on? Better yet, how about thinking up a device the Enterprise could use to disable all enemy weapons? Or how about a medical machine which could miraculously cure any disease? Or how about something that would create world peace, for heaven’s sake? I guess it just never occurred to him.
I shouldn’t just pick on Star Trek, though. The truth is this kind of arbitrariness is found in modern-day sci-fi, too. Some of the inconsistencies can actually be pretty hilarious.
For example (and I’m sure I’m not the first person to mention this), did you ever notice when the incredible hulk metamorphosizes into his gargantuan self all his clothes rip to shreds? Well, all his clothes except his trousers. Hmm…
With the advent of CGI this kind of nonsense has gotten completely out of hand, even in movies which aren’t pure science fiction. Heroes leaping out of planes, careening through the air, landing in the cockpits of helicopters mid-flight, wrestling the pilot out of his chair, then artfully negotiating the craft to a successful landing, it’s ridiculous.
Back in the good old days at least you could find movies with actual stunts being performed by actual stuntmen. For example, in the James Bond movie, Live and Let Die, Bond is trapped on a rather diminutive platform gradually sinking into a pond filled with ferocious alligators. In order to escape, Bond dashes across the backs of the agitated alligators. For that shot a stuntman actually did run across the backs of live, and very dangerous, alligators! In fact, during one take, one of the alligators turned and tried to devour the stuntman. Fortunately, the stuntman was able to escape, and it turns out he was only a bit shaken (not stirred). But seriously, that actually did happen.
In most science fiction you just don’t find that kind of realism.
That’s why the moral of my story is: I’ve acquiesced. My wife is right. Science fiction is arbitrary. But so what? Go ahead and suspend your disbelief! Enjoy the show! Revel in the excitement! You never know, maybe sometime in the not-too-distant future, when we want to travel to some exotic location, all we’ll have to say is “beam me up, Scotty.”