Recently I bought the DVD of The Starlost, a Canadian SF series which is not, well, universally loved and admired. Yet, despite the program’s faults, it has something to recommend it – like all the best SF, it offers a vision of hope, of redemption through knowledge. and the thrill of exploration.
I grew up in a period when we were damn glad to get any SF at all, whenever we got any at all, be it Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Star Trek, The Invaders, Blake’s 7, Doctor Who, The Twilight Zone or Beyond Westworld.
Okay, Beyond Westworld hasn’t got a whole lot to recommend it; they essentially told the same story every week, and the writing and acting were pedestrian, at best.
SF, at its very core, is intellectually subversive. It teaches us – and has done so from the very beginning of the genre – not to trust in authority automatically, and to question all of our beliefs, until we find a path which suits us.
hell, it’s a wonder some folks haven’t been storming school board meetings, insisting that no SF or fantasy books be allowed in the school library.
And for all its faults, The Starlost fits my criteria to a T. It is the story of three young people who set out to discover the truth about the world they live in, which is in reality a huge space ark, carrying a variety of cultures. It is about bravery, friendship and the quest for knowledge.
Good SF can teach us a lot about ourselves, and our role as members of the human race.
Which brings me to the introduction the great Harlan Ellison wrote for the American editions of Doctor Who novels in the 1970s. Though he was writing specifically about one program, I think his thoughts can cover all forms of SF which open the world to us:
“When I was a little kid, and was reading everything I could lay hands on, I read the classics with joy, but enjoyed equally those works I’ve come to think of as ‘elegant trash’: the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, The Shadow, Doc Savage, Conan, comic books and Uncle Wiggly. They taught me a great deal of what I know about courage and truth and ethic in the world.
“To that list I add Doctor Who. His adventures are sunk to the hips in humanism, decency, solid adventures and simple good reading. They are not classics, make no mistake. They can never touch the illuminative level of Dickens or Mark Twain or Kafka. But they are solid entertainment based on an understanding of Good and Evil in the world. They say to us, ‘You, too, can be Doctor Who. You, like the Doctor, can stand up for that which is bright and bold and true. You can shape the world, if you’ll only go and try.’”
Which is why I can forgive the cheesy special effects on 60s and 70s SF – it’s the story that counts, after all. And what the stories inspire us to do.
Today’s blog was written to the tune of k.d. lang’s Ingénue. What a voice!
Quote of the Day
Be careful how you tell your history. Don’t make your war sound like exciting and thrilling. Tell them about the members of your mission that will not be returning. Tell them about the fear. Otherwise your people might relish the idea of war. We don’t want that. – Doctor Who, “Planet of the Daleks”)