Dear Science Fiction,

A "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" spinoffI know people have been putting a lot of pressure on you lately to be big and grown up and serious, but this is one case where you’ve caved to pressure that is, really, something you should be resisting.

To be blunt: You don’t need to be socially relevant. It’s awkward when you try, and you’re really better off when you just leave that whole thing alone.

The clumsy allegories? The half-conceived philosophical positions? They’re goofy, they’re melodramatic, and they distract from what science fiction should actually be doing: looking really really cool.

As an example, let’s take “Star Wars.” Great science fiction movie? Yes! It has great ideas and (sort of underwritten but still halfway engaging) characters and a great story and a great vilian and some super-cool, visual hoozy-whatsits. This is good science fiction. It is entertainment, and does not really see a need to exist beyond that. Also gaining plaudits in this category: “Blade Runner” and “Star Trek”…sort of.

Heading up the opposition we have “District 9” and “Monsters,” both recent movies with cool premises, helmed by special effects wizards, and containing a social subtext that’s about as subtle as a neon-pink tire iron applied straight to the dome. In boththese cases the “less-than-subtext” involves immigration, and in both cases the attempts to grasp at relevancy foul up what are otherwise cool films.

The problem isn’t just that the social commentary feels tacked on, it’s that anyone who knows dick about the social issues being commented on can see that the fiction in question is thanklessly reductive about the very complicated issues that it’s trying to address.

If you read science fiction, you can attest that this problem is systemic. Sci-fi classic “Logan’s Run” got away with some heavy-handed social commentary, but this was only because the plot of the book (involving a citizen’s escape from the pre-engineered society to which he was born) necessitated a critique of the governmental system in which the action was taking place. The focus of the book was plot, character, and idea—social allegory emerged naturally from that, instead of being tacked on like a gangly third arm.

It seems like this problem is being born out of science fiction’s self-conscious need to feel Serious. This, frankly, is bullshit. Science fiction was doing perfectly well with just letting really interesting ideas follow themselves to their logical ends (Orson Scott Card’s”Ender’s Game” and “Xenocide”) or taking as its only philosophical position a vague positive-ism that points to technology as its driving force (all things “Star Trek”).

You don’t need to be Serious. You need to be interesting, and when you try to throw ham-fisted social commentary onto an attempt to just have fun with what you’re doing…well, it looks sort of like the Baron Harkonnen trying to fit into a size 2.

With love,

Shane

ps.—There is  an exception provided for amphetamine-rattled, messianic whackjobs who are convinced that their pulp novels are the direct work of Jesus. We both know who I’m talking about.

p.ps.-“Battlestar Gallactica,” even though I really like you, you are not exempt from the criticisms of this rant.

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