Hope

What will the future look like?

Will humans finally take their place among the stars?  Will we live in space stations, becoming a species of interplanetary nomads?  Will we colonize other worlds?  To the science fiction writer, especially one focused on space travel, these questions are paramount.  They lie at the core of every creative endeavor, and how well one answers these questions determines the difference between a resonating story and a resounding dud.

Every writer has his or her inspirations: stories, shows, movies, even video games that inform their writing.  Often, it starts with what I refer to as “creative envy”: finding a work of fiction so powerful, so ingenious, so compelling, that it triggers an immediate sense of regret as I failed to come up with it first.  But from there, each bit of inspiration is spun into a strand: a single string that can then be woven together with others to create something new.

It is often said that all great scientific minds stand on the shoulders of giants, building their work by using the work of their predecessors as a foundation.  I often feel that science fiction works much the same way; I’ve no doubt that I couldn’t write as well as I do without the works of Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, and others to base my work upon.  After all, someone must first realize it can be done before someone else can figure out how to do it differently.

For years now, one of my greatest inspirations has been Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.  It’s a masterful piece, among the most realistic works on interstellar travel ever produced.  Yet it is the core message of the film that truly makes it valuable: hope.

We are all entitled to our opinions, if nothing else.  And while dystopian science fiction is all the rage in the cynical age we live in, I remain convinced that the best, most compelling science fiction is built not on the threat of what might transpire if we fail to change our ways, but on the promise of what could be if we do.  The really good stuff, though, moves seamlessly from one subgenre to the other: beginning with a bleak future in which everything went wrong, and showing that man is capable of changing once he realizes there’s a better way.

Interstellar serves as a shining example of that: a depiction of an enlightened humanity rising from the ashes of the failings of today.  It is a message of hope, one that Gene Roddenberry, another master of utopian science fiction, expressed as the believe that humanity will mature.  That we will, in time, grow up, and that we’ll do so before it’s too late…if only just.

For the past few years, I’ve developed a personal Christmas tradition: every year on Christmas Eve, I watch Interstellar.  I do so because hope lies at the core of this season: hope for renewal, for redemption, for a better year to come than the one that now passes.  Hope that the coming year will see progress, understanding.  Hope that we will all grow up a little.

To some, it may seem strange to mark this day by watching a science fiction film.  But to someone who’s spent their life reading and watching science fiction, always looking to the stars, there can be no more fitting celebration.  After all, the Christmas season is about hope.  And there can be no greater hope than the hope that we, as a species, will look past our petty differences and selfish goals, and face the future together.

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4 Comments

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  1. I’ll admit I got too bored to watch Interstellar to the end. 🙂 But I’m glad you found one of your lodestars in it! And I agree with your view completely. Irredeemably sad endings irritate me even more than happy endings where nobody had to suffer. 🙂 On this topic, do you have any other recommendations similar to Interstellar – in that they convey a message of future hope?

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    • Well, I can assure you that if you try to watch Interstellar again, the ending is worth it. But two other fantastic works of science fiction in the past few years are “Arrival” and “The Martian”. While Interstellar was an original story, Arrival was based on a short story published in the ’90s, and The Martian was of course a bestselling novel by the incomparable Andy Weir.

      A movie that probably wouldn’t be brought up so often in this conversation is “Contact”. I really enjoyed the film, partially for how much of it was deeply rooted in accepted theory. Contact was actually based on the only novel written by Dr. Carl Sagan.

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  2. Unfortunately dystopian media tends to be a self fulfilling prophecy looking backwards to the darkness out of which we came. On the other hand look at all the new positive technology inspired by the race to reach the moon as well as inspired by star trek that makes our lives richer so long as we use it as a tool and don’t let it consume us.

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