Most science fiction readers are familiar with Dystopian stories. From Planet of the Apes to the Thor: Ragnarok, dysfunctional and doom-filled scenarios are fed to us on a daily basis. For those under the age of thirty, this may be the only type of science fiction you’ve ever read or seen. If dystopian horror is more to your taste, you can find plenty of supernatural stories featuring zombies, vampires, and werewolves all made somewhat charming and “friendly” to take the edge off the fact that they’re inhuman monsters. And let’s not forget the space stories featuring horrible wars. It’s a major theme nowadays…eternal war leading to some version of the apocalypse. The only way to survive is to become a cyborg connected to an overarching, artificial intelligence mind control network.
Are these really the ideas we want filling our dreams? Or, the collective daydreams of humanity?
This is mighty dangerous. Most people don’t create, they parrot. And when enough people parrot disaster, they’re more apt to accept it when they see it. And if science fiction, in whatever form, adds jokes and quips to scenes of extreme violence, then we can pass those horrors off as trivial. After all, it’s just a minor character being disemboweled, or a bad guy, and that’s funny…right? Wrong. Naturalizing violence makes you numb to what’s really happening out in the world.
Do you remember the 1967 Star Trek episode called, “A Taste of Armageddon?” In it, a decadent society is at war with a nearby planet. Attacks with casualties are projected by computers and citizens willingly allow themselves to be destroyed for the sake of a clean and tidy war. So the society continues, without physical damage to property, in their eternal, bloodless war. Who profits by this? Certainly not the citizens who exist in a perpetual state of hellish stress wondering when their number will come up.
Captain Kirk changes everything when he destroys Eminiar VII’s war game computers, triggering a real military response from the enemy planet, Vendikar. Life suddenly gets very real for both planets as actual war looms. The episode goes a long way to describing where we are right on now – the idea that we can exist in a state of perpetual war where we never see our enemies, we’re just told who they are.
Are we being fed a carefully developed storyline? And if so, why?
Storytellers know the power of story. From ancient times they’ve helped make sense of the world, explaining everything from natural phenomena to the actions of gods. More than myths and legends, however, stories also transmit rules for moral conduct and appropriate behavior.
Stories inject ideas into the collective unconscious of mankind. It’s a bit like injecting something into the bloodstream, the material may be healthful or it might be a poison. And too much of anything can act as a toxin.
Ideas have the same effect. Inject enough despair into a society and people start getting depressed, even suicidal. Why bother living in a world where have to resort to cannibalism to survive. Or, where man-made plagues change the population into zombies and survivors get eaten or turned into the undead later on. You might survive all of these horrors IF you live in a world of superheros, pagan gods, or mutants. But there’ll be a lot of collateral damage in that option, and you might end up becoming a slave.
I have just given you a summation of the types of stories being force-fed into mankind’s collective unconscious today. To summarize – you are an enslaved, powerless human being living in an overpopulated and depleted world where you are at the mercy of super-powered beings who might save you, they also might kill you, accidentally of course, unless they’re villains in which case they’ll kill and/or eat you gladly.
Dystopian stories are addictive. You get a rush imaging yourself in desperate scenarios and comparing gradations within a very narrow band – how violent or how devastating. Slim survival rates versus none at all.
Frequently, mankind stands on the edge of a precipice, just about to step off. And he’ll go smiling if he thinks a superman will catch him, or an alien saucer, or maybe a Jedi in a futuristic fighter craft.
We need to do better.
And we can.
First of all, we need to add something creatively-new into our adrenaline-depleted consciousnesses. We need to remember what real human beings are capable of. We need a new kind of story.
Let’s begin with human heroes, skilled individuals who are not super soldiers, have not been genetically-engineered, or mystically-enhanced. They’re just people, like you or me.
Now, on to a plot. A morally-centered human being stands up in a crisis situation and uses their skills (not impossible, Macgyver-like skills, but skills that real people have) to good advantage and with success. They may fall down a few times before they finally succeed but that’s okay. Grit is an awfully good quality in a hero.
What about the possibility of high technology? Heck yes! Let’s imagine space ships and human colony planets. We can’t get rid of violence entirely because stories thrive on conflict. So how about violence where people understand that it’s wrong, even when they have to fight. And let’s not make a joke about it. Okay? Violence is very unpleasant. (Remember Kirk’s solution, making people realize how awful real war is so that they want to stop fighting.) War isn’t something to aspire to, unless you’re an arms dealer or have an unnatural taste for blood.
What about machine-men, robots and cyborgs? Well, that’s up to you. Personally, I’m against it. But if you desire your children’s dreams to include having chips implanted under the skin and additional memory slots added to their dear little heads, by all means. Just remember that after those changes, they’re no longer human. So not an option for me. Thanks just the same.
What have we got so far? An adventure story with a human, highly-skilled protagonist. A moral theme. A clear delineation between what is human and not human. High technology. Adventures in space. With me so far? Great! Now let’s add a few additional features, for example, the human qualities of compassion, creativity, and the capacity to dream big dreams. Now, we’ve got the bones of a story that makes the heart happy and characters that make you feel good. Like you could be them, for real.
It’s time to embrace a new type of science fiction story, one that includes many new futures, some of which are so far outside the box that we can’t yet imagine them. But we will.
Landscape of Darkness is a neotopian science fiction story. In Sam Mercury’s world humanity has made a choice that leads to a better future. His is not a perfect world but it is a human one.
My goal as artist and writer is to bring neotopia to life. We all have something to contribute to mankind’s rennaisance. What’s your gift and how will you share it?
Want to fall down into a rabbit hole? Dig deeper into dystopia.