Friday, May 04, 2012

Sci-Fi - Modern Mythology


I'm re-reading Dune. I really love that book. If you're not familiar with Frank Herbert's Dune, it's classic sci-fi from back in the Golden Age of sci-fi when Sci-Fi that was written could attract a cult following and even, sometimes, spawn an almost religious following that goes years into the future (That may be what cult following means so perhaps that's redundant. I'm no Frank Herbert). 
Asimov's Foundation trilogy (First book was published in 1951 (It's the only series to ever win best sci- fi series of all time hugo award, beating out Lord of the Rings according to wikipedia)), Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land (1961), and Frank Herbert's Dune (1965) are the big three I think. To be fair I don't include Asimov's Foundation in there because I personally think it fits but because his idea of psycho-history is still around today in some form or another and it's generally agreed that it fits in. I don't believe it creates a modern mythology like the other two do, but there's no denying the impact of the trilogy on almost all subsequent writers. I, Robot the same way. The laws of robotics are almost accepted as real things today when robots are written about. 
They just don't write sci-fi like these any more. I'm not saying that because they're classics. I'm saying that because while there is sci-fi out there that I really enjoy, The Vorkosigan series for example, the stories are now more about people than ideas. Dune & Stranger In a Strange Land created a mythology people liked, loved, and created worlds and did things with worlds and ideas that just aren't being done today that I've seen, and I read a lot of sci-fi. Or, maybe it's just those books hit me at the right time in my life where they made a big impression on me and I'm projecting their importance beyond what is real. 
The closest I can think of today is The Matrix, the first movie. The rest of them try to live up to the promise of the first movies promise, but they don't. They're not as heroic. Maybe that's part of why I don't include Asimov's trilogy in the same league as Dune & Stranger, the heroism there is mostly done by a guy who is dead early on, Hari Seldon isn't all that heroic because he's dead to me. His ideas live on past him and guide the development of a civilization and since I've already said the stories were about ideas that supports the idea… but the missing component for me was the heroic nature of the myths created by Stranger's Valentine Michael Smith, and Dune's Paul "Maud'Dib" Atreides. 
The ironic part (I hope I'm using his right) is I think both of these stories argue against following a leader and to think for yourself, make decisions yourself, and be responsible for your actions and their consequences… or at least aware of the consequences of your actions. I can't say either hits too hard on the idea of accepting the responsibility as much as they are to be aware of that responsibility. Perhaps that's why today these books aren't being written any more. We're not big on personal responsibility, or thinking for ourselves it seems. A deference to authority and a tendency to blame others, either for our shortcomings or luck for our successes seems to be more popular today than it was when these were written. 
That was key in The Matrix as well when Neo had to choose which pill to take, he couldn't defer the decision or get someone else to make it for him. He had a distinct choice to make and only he could make it and after making that choice he had consequences and responsibilities to be dealt with and from the pill on in the movie the story is heroic, even the failings or times he floundered, those were heroic in that they were a result of actions he'd taken. There was no luck involved, just unfolding events following one another based on the actions and ideas of the mythological heroes the stories are about.
I love a good myth story and wish I could find some being written today. There's a certain amount of hope in a myth and I think we are in a time that could use a hopeful myth to guide, or inspire us to greatness. 
*I don't link to Asimov's Foundation because I really don't enjoy reading him at all. His ideas made good stories, but I just don't think he's all that great a writer. 
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