It’s Time to Recolonize the Galaxy.
By Julie Pascal
Like many authors and fans of science fiction I spend time considering “What Happened?” What happened to my genre? What happened to adventure, to sensawunder? What happened as the genre evolved? What was gained and what was lost? And was anything really lost or have we just become too familiar with the ideas that seemed so fresh when they were first encountered?
That last could be phrased as “Have we grown up?”
Have we grown up? Certainly life is different today. We’ve been to the moon and Mars and to the bottom of the sea and we know that there are no lost civilizations hidden in Darkest Africa. We can turn on our computers and visit Bangladesh or Timbuktu or Machu Picchu. Dolly lived and died and people are cloning beloved pets. A baby was born who’d been frozen as an embryo for as long as her birth mother has been alive.
But is that actually different from “before” apart from the specifics? Life has been a rollercoaster of advancement for centuries even if the latest “wonder” has changed from indoor plumbing and balloon ascensions and the discovery of electrons and antibiotics to robots singing themselves Happy Birthday on Mars. So shouldn’t there be more wonder rather than less?
The spectacular launch of a rocket from Vandenberg carrying Iridium satellites wasn’t boring. It’s not become dull that I can use my phone to let me know the exact moment to look up from my exact location to see one of those communication satellites create an “iridium flare” as the sun reflects from the solar panels, lighting up brighter than any star for just a few seconds.
Artificial intelligences are creating artificial intelligences. Silkworms are spinning graphene-silk. There are too many exoplanets discovered to keep track of.
So what happened?
And did something happen?
I ask myself that question, too. Maybe nothing happened. Maybe my life has changed and I simply haven’t had time to find the books, read the adventures, and really don’t know what’s out there? Is my experience comprehensive or typical? Likely not.
But this is what science fiction seems to me. Galaxy spanning human societies are at war. That always makes a good conflict. Military science fiction is big, and I can’t complain because I like that subgenre a whole lot. Or else galaxy spanning human societies are managed by some outside force. My husband likes those. Or else science fiction is close and personal and set in our solar system.
There are no doubt exceptions, and please point me at them.
I like far future science fiction, military science fiction and the rest. Don’t get me wrong about that. But I think that we have lost something. And what I think we’ve lost is the entire process of getting there.
We’re skipping exploration and colonization.
We’re skipping the stories of those people who dig in and build the foundations of those empires. Who fight to hold what they build. Who focus on the future and on securing it for their children.
We skip right to the part where the gleaming spires are either already built or there are slums instead. There may be a mention of The Founders or the reason that a culture exists as it does, but the Founders themselves are generally foggy and morally questionable people.
It may be good that sensibilities change over time, but in this case we seem to have decided to pretend that one of the fundamental driving motivations of life, not just human life, but all life, can’t be written about. No more sensawunder, just a sense of shame, as if human migration isn’t the reason that people are not still confined to a few tribes squatting along the Euphrates.
We can still pretend that we already got there though, somehow. Or not us, but someone else before, and now our story plot deals with the complications of expansion without having to make a statement about breathing microbes into an alien atmosphere. We skip that part.
I’ve been told by those critiquing my writing that I can’t skip the part where something happens.
We all need to stop skipping the part where something happens.
It’s time to recolonize the galaxy.
Julie Pascal is the editor for the Planetary Anthology, Jupiter. Submissions will be open for the month of January. Send stories as an attachment with a subject line of “Jupiter anthology – Story Title” to [email protected]. Include your name and contact information with email in the attached document.
Stories should be heavy on the themes of leadership and power, fatherhood, the god or mythology of Jupiter, or science fiction based on or around the planet Jupiter. Word count is not strictly limited but 8K-10K words is a nice length. Don’t skip the part where something happens.