Last week’s Tomorrowland article provides an excellent overview of Brad Bird’s sci-fi film contra its critics.1
Since then I’ve seen Tomorrowland myself and can confirm that some critics–not all–were critiquing the film for what it was trying to be, not about whether it succeeded in its own goals. At some point I may write a longer review of Tomorrowland and its themes of optimism and classical humanism. (After all, classical humanism with its regard for Christian virtues and the dignity of man is better than self-hating nihilistic humanism, but still can only approach the full Story.)
But first perhaps as an incidental counterpoint to last week’s article is this interesting conceit from CrossedGenres.com, a fantastical short-story mag.
Novelist Mike Duran points out2 one clause of the submissions guidelines.
Then comes the counterpart:
Of course, a few disclaimers:
- First Amendment rights include the right to practice religion and the right of free speech. Privately declining to endorse people’s practice of either right may violate the spirit of the First Amendment, but does not violate the actual right. Etc.
- To succeed, a publisher must in some sense give the majority of readers what they want.
- This publisher does not say they will never accept other stories, just that they will be “hard sells.”
- Nothing is wrong with emphasizing stories beyond the “mad science run amok” theme.
Yet Duran challenges the magazine’s desire to avoid “stories [that are] based [on] the assumption that any particular religion’s beliefs are real.” That desire, he notes, clashes amusingly with the insistence that “science” be the hero that wins almost every time.
For one, how do characters in a story NOT assume their beliefs are real? Is the Native American character to assume his religion is false? Is the Jedi to assume the Force is just made up? Isn’t this the same as saying that, We only want stories where ALL religion is assumed to be bunk? Or, We only want stories where ALL religions are assumed to be true (i.e., then none are)? The giveaway is that these editors DO NOT want stories where “Science is villain.” So “Science as Savior” stories are acceptable. Which elevates Science into the very realm of religious beliefs the mag doesn’t want.
Stories where Religion is true = bad.
Stories where Science is true = good.
Getting over old tropes is fine. Not every white-haired monocled German-accented genetic biologist in a white lab coat needs to cackle menacingly before throwing the lever.
But how does it help to make every scientist a righteous hero?
Isn’t this simply setting up another trope, and worse, a culturally insular and preachy trope?
Frankly this restriction sounds like it would result in boring, moralistic, self-righteous stories that would rank with some the worst of well-meant evangelical novels that place “doctrine” (e.g., a thoughtless and shallow repetition of truth) over story.
This restriction also disregards a long and righteous history of science fiction that has classically humanist (yet Christianity-derived) themes. In these stories, it is the heroic yet flawed protagonists — often scientists themselves! — who challenge others’ arrogance, often before, during, or after the consequences. Think of Jurassic Park (1993), Godzilla (2014), or pretty much any halfway-thoughtful story with large mutant monsters rampaging about and showing scientists they’re not all that.
Readers or publishers may tire of “science can be evil” stories, but humanity will always need them.
But the opposite notion does give rise to a potential plot outline that any of you aspiring fiction writers can have for free:
- German-accented mad scientist in white lab coat disregards test tubes, exotic mage materials, and remote-island volcano-based lairs.
- Instead the mad scientist acquires public-relations firms and speculative-story publications to persuade the public that Science is only ever the hero and Science must never be seen as any way destructive or negative.
- Doomsday scenario.
- True yet flawed and humble actual hero arrives to save the day.