Saturday, December 18, 2010

Another deck gone: A lament for science fiction

SyFy

On the heels of its cancellation of Caprica, the SyFy Channel just announced it has canceled Stargate Universe. That’s disappointing to me. SGU, a military science fiction series in its second season, has just developed solid feet to stand on—in other words, it was becoming a good story. It is fleshing out its characters and its themes of sacrifice, duty, who we follow and why, the pull between orders and ethics, the good of the many versus the good of the few (or one), what makes us human and what we believe, what it means to live together as a community, and what it means to love—many of which are themes common to the military science fiction genre and all of which are aspects of good stories that bring God-talk into open spaces. 

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the series lost support from its network (even one ironically touting itself as one that supports the genre) because a lot of science fiction has historically had a difficult time holding ratings on the small screen (from the original Star Trek to Firefly to Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles to the recently canceled Caprica). As I’ve mentioned before, there seem to be a bunch of factors that go into making a show tank, from a low buzz factor, schedule changes, bad lead-in, and high production costs to the tendency of ongoing story arcs (rather than self-contained one-hour dramas) to wean off viewers –all of which are battles good science fiction stories face these days.

Then there’s the fact that good stories simply make us work harder. They tend to not only entertain but also confront, provoke, poke and make us uncomfortable. In the humble opinion of this blogger, science fiction is one of the most thought-provoking genres out there with the potential to tell good stories—which, among other things, explore what it means to be human. It gets at who we are and why we do the things we do and takes us down the roads those choices lead. It tells us something about ourselves, the reality we live in, the people around us. It invites us to reflect on our lives, provokes us to examine what we believe and why, and helps us think through the issues facing us in our own lives. And, if we are intentional, stories like this have the potential to change the way we approach life, people and the world.

In addition, the genre by its very nature invites and sometimes even forces us to consider things beyond the here and now. It confronts us with the unknown, exploration beyond the comfortable, potential and mystery—things that push us to consider greater truths to our existence.

C.S. Lewis reflects on this idea in his essay “On Science Fiction,” where he likens the genre to a stolen moment on the deck of a ship:
If we were all on board ship and there were trouble among the stewards, I can just conceive their chief spokesman looking with disfavor on anyone who stole away from the fierce debates in the saloon or pantry to take a breather on deck. For up there, he would taste the salt, he would see the vastness of the water, he would remember that the ship had a whither and a whence. He would remember things like fog, storms, and ice. What had seemed, in the hot, lighted rooms down below to be merely the scene for a political crisis, would appear once more as a tiny egg-shell moving rapidly through an immense darkness over an element in which man cannot live. It would not necessarily change his convictions about the rights and wrongs of the dispute down below, but it would probably show them in a new light. It could hardly fail to remind him that the stewards were taking for granted hopes more momentous than that of a rise in pay, and the passengers forgetting dangers more serious than that of having to cook and serve their own meals. Stories of the sort I am describing are like that visit to the deck. They cool us.
Destiny's observation deck (SyFy)
Frankly, many of us don’t want to work that hard when it comes to the stories we watch on the small screen. But I, for one, need those forays onto the deck of those ships. I need to be reminded of larger truths and how to see things in a brighter, larger light. I need to be cooled.

So, I will miss the view from the deck of the Destiny. Farewell, SGU.

4 comments:

mcbeejoe said...

I never saw the show but reading this post makes me want to.

I know I've said this before, but you really are a good writer and I LOVE the way you see things.

Carmen Andres said...

joe, right back at you, my friend!

Anonymous said...

Although I'm an atheist and as such don't really seek any ... um ... enlightenment (I do agree though, science fiction evokes thoughts ...), I appreciate this post. I loved SGU, and 'SyFy's cancelling of it really makes me want to hit something ...

I hope (against all odds) that this is neither the end of the Stargate franchise, nor the end of high-quality science fiction series ...

Benjamin Ady said...

Carmen,

You say it so much more beautifully than I do. I merely complain. Alas for SCC, SGU, Dark Angel, Caprica, and Flashforward, to name a few. Thank you for your beautiful writing