On the rising tide of scifi on our screens

My first introduction to science fiction was an old Nickelodeon show called Space Cases.

It wasn’t a great show by any standard. It was a bunch of kids on a space ship, with a whole lot of recycled props from other shows, and they canceled the thing after the second season. But no words can express how ardently I glued myself to the screen for those adventures and aliens and tales of strange planets. When the show ended, I’d sneak off to my knockoff Chinese LEGO sets and replicate the episodes. Fwoosh!

My parents mostly read thrillers of the Frederick Forsyth variety. They were not amused. But the little idiot box gave me an scifi imagination that has lasted me a lifetime.

TodayI was told that Amazon had commissioned three new shows: Lazarus, Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and Niven’s Ring World.  My first reaction was: that’s brilliant! Ring World in particular deserves to see the screen now that we have the tech to pull it off. And if Snow Crash brings back cyberpunk . . . .

And then I look around and what’s already on the market, and there’s Star Trek: Discovery; A Handmaid’s Tale; Orville; and my eternal favorite, The Expanse. Meanwhile, all I’ve heard about for the last few months in the movie space is Valerian this and Blade Runner that. Last year it was Interstellar and Westworld and Orphan Black. And this is without mentioning lesser works like The 100 or Dark Matter.

(I’m particularly happy at Blade Runner: PKD’s stories have a long history of being adapted spectacularly well to the screen – Total Recall, anyone? Minority Report? Next? A Scanner Darkly, with those trippy Reeves-ish visuals?)

But I digress. What a huge variety of scifi we have now on the screen. What a contrast it is now to five years ago, when practically everything on the market was a gritty, grim thriller.

I’m honestly very excited by this change. As a sci-fi fan who still very much is that kid who watched Space Cases, this is an incredible time to be alive. The combined might of Hollywood seems to have gotten its head out of its ass and started looking to the stars instead of just the dirt beneath our feet. As an author, I daresay this bodes well: all these movies and TV series means audiences primed once again for rich imaginings and technological fantasies of the kind we deliver. And as a human being, I hope that these shows, so much better written and executed than my little Space Cases, go on to inspire generations of kids to dream of being astronauts. Or physicists. Or astronomers. Or science fiction authors. People exploring that vast dark space in search of light.

If there is one thing I really want tell the people making these shows, though, it’s this: don’t make everything about lasers and fights and Dark Night-ish storytelling.

The world’s dark enough as it is already. Space Cases was a little, hopeful light, just like the early Star Trek. I’d like some part of that light still in the world, please. I hope these shows make people think and dream and hope. And I realize I’m a hypocrite for saying this, because everything I’ve written is mildly dystopian – for crying out loud, my first book was about a man who tried to commit the grandest suicide of all, by shooting himself into a Kerr singularity.  But here’s hoping that there is still some hope in these worlds.  After all, there are little kids out there who will [hopefully] watch them, and dream, and go on to create worlds of their own.


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