Science Fiction vs. Reality

We interrupt this blog for a brief announcement: Too often, science fiction, no matter how imaginative, just plain sucks.

Here’s an example, from one of the genre’s founders, Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s from his second book The Gods of Mars. A Martian princess named Phaidor has just been rejected by a studly Virginian from earth, who has another Martian Princess for a wife. Phaidor doesn’t like it. She yells:

Dog! Dog of a blasphemer! Think you that Phaidor, daughter of Matai Shang, supplicates! She commands. What to her is your puny outer world passion for the vile creature you chose in your other life?

Phaidor has glorified you with her love, and you have spurned her. Ten thousand unthinkably atrocious deaths could not atone for the affront that you have put upon me. The thing that you call Dejah Thoris shall die the most horrible death of them all. You have sealed the warrant for her doom.

And you! You shall be the meanest slave in the service of the goddess you have attempted to humiliate. Tortures and ignominies shall be heaped upon you until you grovel at my feet asking the boon of death.

In my gracious generosity I shall at length grant your prayer, and from the high balcony of the Golden Cliffs I shall watch the great white apes tear you asunder."

Actually, that’s a highlight. It shows some emotion, instead of yet another battle scene between the Plant Men, the black Barsoomians, the Great White Apes, and the numerous other bizarre factions on this ridiculous Mars. Believe you me, this book (and every other book I’ve ever read by Burroughs) is just about unreadable. Yet he is one of the most popular of all authors, having sold millions of copies of dozens of books in over thirty languages, most notably Tarzan.

In contrast, for those of us who think that fiction can be a useful tool for uncovering truth amidst overwhelming reality, an upcoming movie called Syriana will likely be worth a look. It stars George Clooney (and no doubt would never have gotten made without his backing). It was written by the brilliant Stephen Gaghan, of Traffic fame, and similarly uses overlapping story lines and a multitude of alarming characters to get at the truth about that most precious of earthly commodities today: oil.

In an interview with the LATimes, Gaghan makes a number of interesting points, including:

Our lifestyle is predicated on our ascendancy in the energy business over the 20th century. We’re all beneficiaries of that. I’m complicit. You’re complicit. We’re all complicit. We hide behind the fact that we don’t understand.

Uh-oh. Confronting your audience with unpleasant realities? As one media observer pointed out, a blog for a mediocre baseball team can attract 842 comments in a day; far surpassing political sites, much less enviro ones. You could be asking for trouble, Stephen…

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