The Best of All Worlds: Micro, Macro, Close to Home & Across the Universe

The thing I love the most about science fiction stories is seeing something new, something literally out of this world. Nothing gives you perspective quite as much as the gaping void of space. Look at the possibilities of the future and exploring how vast all of space and time can be. I love seeing things beyond what I know--I want a story to let me escape past the world I know.

But...the other thing I love most about science fiction is that it shows me the world I already know.

Take, for example, Alexandra Duncan's Salvage. On the one hand, it shows a world we do not have at all: a girl raised on an oppressive generational space ships, a floating continent made of garbage and scraps, a futuristic Mumbai with spaceships and technology we can only dream about now.

Ava's story is definitely the stuff of science fiction. Her world is so far beyond anything we currently have.

But it's also very, very close to home. We don't have generational spaceships--but we societies that can be oppressive. We don't have Mumbai of the future--but we have Mumbai now.

And that's where Salvage really shines. When I say the best science fiction shows me the world I already know, I mean it shows me the world. Not just the one at my front steps. Salvage is diverse, with characters from all over the world and settings that aren't limited to America and Europe.

Science fiction is all about scope. Often, we forget that detail because we're looking at the macro: space and exploration and battleships. We see the big scope, but the best sci fi also shows us the smaller scope as well--the details don't get lost in the stars. And by showing both the small and the large scopes of our glorious universe, we often see the truth of the world we live in today.

An excellent example of this is this series of photographs that show classic images of world landmarks, then zooms out to show how they appear in the context of their location. The most striking image of the series for me was the Taj Mahal:

Image source: AP
We all know and love that image. But zoom out, and you'll see something different...

Image source: Imgur
There's also a striking difference between what we see as grand and what isn't.

Image source: Getty
Mount Rushmore is huge. Stunningly so. Carved literally out of the side of a mountain. But it doesn't take that far of a pull to see it in context.

Image source: AP
Go just a little further away, and these massive giants would disappear.

In today's science fiction, it's often very easy to default to a futuristic version of the world we live in. But science fiction, at it's heart, is always looking forward--into space and time, yes, but it's important to keep our sights a little closer to home, somewhere between our front steps and a thousand years away.

The very best science fiction--the sci fi that stays with us long after we finish, that arguably helps shape the future it envisioned--is the science fiction that shows us both the vastness of the universe and the beauty in the details. It encompasses both the macro and the micro, and teaches us that we are both insignificant specks and irreplaceable stars.



1 comment:

Richa Parande said...

Love this post! I completely agree with you - sci-fi is my favourite genre precisely because of the vast futuristic possibilities in it, and there definitely is always something new. I really liked Salvage (especially since I'm from Mumbai!) and I never really thought about the whole micro and macro aspect of everything. So thanks for this little gem of perception!