This is one of my favorite tropes--the classic time travel tale. I think I first fell in love with the twisty tale 12 Monkeys and then again with Doctor Who, but time travel itself is just fascinating. What would you do--go into the future, or correct the past? The only thing sure to happen in a time travel tale is that whatever you do, the outcome won't be what you're expecting. Even with the power of time, there's no guarantee you'll solve anything...
This is one of the key tropes of almost any sci fi novel, but certainly some sci fi tales are centered on this concept--most notably Star Trek, boldy going where no many has gone before. I think the reason I love these exploration tales is that, no matter what the explorers discover, it always teaches something about ourselves. The best sci fi, in fact, isn't so much about the strange, but about the discovery of self. In examining the possibilities of the wide universe, we discover who we actually are on a much more personal level.
Whether it's aliens or just a surprise twist on our own lives, no one covers this trope as well as The Twilight Zone. In science fiction, anything can happen. The major premise of the genre hinges on this concept. Exposing the surprise, unexpected twists reminds us that no matter how certain we are of the world, we can never be too certain. The best episodes of The Twilight Zone show how what we take for granted--everyday life, people we can trust--is never something to expect to last.
As opposed to hard SF, space opera often doesn't define every aspect of the world (or the schematics of the space engine), focusing instead on the characters and their struggles. A great space opera is both incredibly vast and incredibly narrow. It shows the vastness of the world, giving us access to new planets and spaceships, new cultures and aliens (even Jar-Jar Binks). At the same time, the space opera tends to be very close-up on a handful of characters, the ones whose story is being featured. Star Wars is about far more than Luke and Han and Leia and Vader, but at the end of the day, the story exists within them, and arguably could be told in another way, as long as the characters remain the same. On the flip side, hard SF titles are inextricably tied to their SF world, to the point where the world--and specifically the science of the world--becomes another character of the story.
We are not alone! There are aliens and worlds beyond what we could ever imagine. A planet made of chocolate? Possible! A fish that lives in your ear and translate words for you (except Belgium, because, ugh, vulgar)? Done and done! The universe contains anything you could ever possibly conceive of--and even more than that. It literally contains everything, including the meaning to life, the universe, and everything. Some stories revel in the vast possibilities (perhaps none moreso than Douglas Adams), while some warn us that included in "everything" are some very, very, very bad things we don't want to mess with (*cough*ALIENS AND PREDATORS*cough*). Either way, the point is that beyond the black of space is an infinite world of possibilities, just waiting to be discovered...or to thrust themselves upon us and invade Earth...
On the flip side, we have the stories where we are alone. Firefly is a great example of that--although there are other planets (almost all of them terraformed), there's very little in the way of aliens--no sentient creatures, for sure. And when the characters look out into the stars, they see "the black"--the utter aloneness of being human. After all, Arthur C. Clarke put it best when he said, “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”
Ahhhhh, I love tech. I don't understand it, but I totally welcome my new and upcoming robot overlords. Technology is often the magic of sci fi. Whether it shows a world that went too far (such as Minority Report) or a world enhanced and made better by tech (omg, please give me a teleporter NOW), it's fascinating to see what sci fi writers develop, technologically. Some books from the past have a delightful mix of old and new--in Connie Willis's Doomsday Book, the character have access to time travel machines...but not to cell phones. It's sort of hilarious to see them running to payphones when their time machines muck up. But it's fascinating, too, to see what technology people predict will change, what will stay the same, and what is so new and mind-blowing that even the best minds thinking of the future couldn't predict.
As you can see, there's a lot to love in sci fi--so if you haven't checked it out yet, make sure you do! And if you've stuck with one trope, try out a new one--if not in a novel, perhaps in a short story. On Tuesday, January 13, I'll be releasing a collection of sci fi short stories that cover a ton of different tropes. There's time travel and teleporters, unexpected twists and unexplored tech. Each story is unique and separate from the others, and the only thing that ties them all together is that they take place in the future. The Future Collection is my first short story collection, and features three never-before-seen short stories!
And you can enter to win a copy here--as well as a signed copy of my latest book, The Body Electric, and an Across the Universe brand water bottle.
You can enter below!
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