Four reasons why I love science fiction, fantasy, horror
It’s fitting that one of my earliest memories as a child was of the Red Krypton sun…
I was four when the original “Superman” movie starring Christopher Reeves hit theaters, and as I recall, my mother and I were a few minutes late.
The image forever burned in my mind is of the planet Krypton and holding my mother’s hand as she guided me through this dark theater, walking towards that huge orb, that seemed to swallow us whole. It was as if I was landing on Krypton. The memory ends there only because I think my four year-old brain was absorbing the wonderful cinematic vision of that first film.
I missed the original “Star Wars,” but that was all right. Superman taught me most of the things I needed to know to survive in the world. He helped to reinforce the values that my mother was instilling in me. (Never lie, be humble, and fight for truth, justice and the American way. I believed these things because Superman believed these things.)
KRYPTON, from the movie “Superman.”
–photo courtesy Warner Bros.
Later, I sought out the works of Charles Dickens simply because Clark Kent’s editor Perry White asked him (at the beginning of “Superman II”) why he didn’t watch TV. To which Clark replied (I’m paraphrasing): “There’s too much violence on television. I was just home – reading Dickens.”
He is today, still one of my favorite authors, but I wouldn’t have come to him so early if it hadn’t been for Clark.
People who don’t really understand the love of genre look at it as pure escapism. There is some truth to this, but at its best, genre gives us a different colored lens to peer through and explore a world not contingent upon (or limited by) what we deem as reality.
Here are some things I love about science fiction, fantasy and horror:
- Limitless: science fiction by its very nature is not limited by the future alone, it encompasses everything. Truly, the best SF is about the world we live in today. Though I would venture that space battles, robots, and exotic planets look incredibly cool (especially on the big screen), SF is much larger than that. There are what if? scenarios, like what if the Axis Powers (the Nazis) had won WWII (Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle”)? And SF shows that cleverly disguise themselves as drama with just a sprinkling of SF (“Quantum Leap”). SF can take on the social issues of today without the baggage of contemporary times and political correctness. It can rise to the level of allegory and give us thought-provoking cautionary tales. Much like Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone.”
- Peering Through the Looking Glass: Okay. This title is borrowed from Lewis Carroll’s sequel to “Alice in Wonderland,” but good horror in my opinion is all about the mirror we gaze into. Sure, it’s great to be frightened, grossed out, or otherwise entertained, though I would venture that the best of the genre turns the mirror inward, using horror as a tool to say something larger, more important. Stephen King’s short story, “Children of the Corn,” is a fine example of saying more about our Puritanical leanings and how the simple innocence of children can be turned into something worse. King creates terror in its purest form because something like this could actually happen…well, sort of. Even if it is a bit far-fetched, it still makes you think. Early Stephen King (from his “Carrie debut in 1974, to the mid 80s) was truly the master of the form.
- Pure fun: fantasy falls under this category for me. As serious as “Lord of the Rings” (both the books and the Peter Jackson films) there inherently is a sense of “fun” in fantasy. Fantasy, unlike the best of science fiction, doesn’t often concern itself much with the accuracy of this or that. People in these stories do things because they can. Besides Harry Potter’s lineage, there is no scientific rationale for him being able to wield magic. Anyway, who cares? Dragons, wizards, swords, sorcery, scantily clad women (muscular men for the ladies). Sometimes a fantasy movie or book is just what the doctor ordered.
- Something to say: Obviously this isn’t limited to the SF, fantasy and horror genres, but more often than not, science fiction and horror has demonstrated quite an ability to widen the canvas of not only what is said, but how it is said.
Which brings us back to the planet Krypton: it was as real to me as the world I lived in as a kid.
Did I have a slightly skewed viewpoint as a kid?
Did I have a healthy imagination?
In my experience, people either love or hate science fiction, fantasy and horror. There are few without an opinion. At its best, they have the power to solicit debate, spark conversations, and occasionally help to shape a child’s mind (many MIT graduates have credited shows like “Star Trek” and “Babylon 5” for sparking their interest in science).
The ability to think creatively is just as important as the ability to add, subtract and divide. Science fiction, fantasy and horror opens a world of possibilities for those brave enough to open the door wide to peer through it…
Cornelius Fortune is the associate managing editor of the Michigan Chronicle. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.