In 1946, H. G. Wells, the author of The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, dies in London.
As my wife and I settled into our dollar-movie-theatre seats, I was pleased to recall that yet another sci-fi film had received glowing audience and critical acclaim. Minutes after it started, I realized the reviews don’t give a clue about how good, how intelligent, and how soul-stirring this movie is.
Yes, it’s entertaining, and yes, it breaks conventions. Some of the breaks worked for me. Making it a (mostly) silent movie transformed it into much more that a “scary” movie. And scary it is, with plenty of white-knuckle scenes as a rural family cowers from a blind but ruthless predator that locates and attacks its victims when they make the faintest sound. The scant dialogue revved up the power of the visual tension to nearly unbearable levels. (At one point, a lady a few seats behind me whispered to her husband that she couldn’t take any more, and scampered out of the theatre.) Some of the conventions it broke left me feeling a bit cheated and shocked. Think a tale about a loving family struggling to survive will end without any casualties? The movie breaks that one in the first scene.
So it’s a hard film to watch at times. But “A Quiet Place” is a masterpiece of cinematic storytelling. Also, it tackles some themes head on in ways I found deeply moving and agreeable. It’s a pro-natalist, pro-sociobiology adventure; both the mother and father courageously do what they must to preserve the family. Despite the danger and the sacrifice, the husband and wife decide to have another baby. (And remember – babies cry!) At one point, the mother asks her husband, “Who are we if we can’t protect our children?”
That’s the key question of our age – just as it is in any age.
You can now pre-order the April issue of Metaphorosis Magazine in paperback, which will be available on July 1. Here’s what’s included:
I’m honored to be included with such distinguished authors. The cover shows Saturn’s mysterious moon Enceladus, the setting of my contribution, “Cathedra.” And I was particularly excited by the reviews:
Metaphorosis offers “well-written stories with humor, emotion, and wit,” and I think you’ll agree they deliver what they promise. Enjoy!
Image by Angela George
“Science fiction is a very good way to talk about politics and human systems, by extrapolating them to another planet or into a future where it doesn’t piss people off to read about them. You talk about people’s politics or religion and they get mad because they feel threatened. But you set it on another planet or in some alternate universe, and they can look at it with a more objective eye and maybe look at the world through another perspective, if only for a short time.” James Cameron, director of Avatar, The Terminator and True Lies
I recently wrote a guest post for Sue Vincent’s wonderful spiritual, art, and folklore site. My post focuses on a topic I find myself thinking about more and more:
Countless online and printed articles have wrestled with what has become the most troubling question of our age: What is happening to us?
The cascade of electrons and ink aimed at this question underscores our growing realization that many of the sources of order we once relied on, from governments to churches, are coming apart. Individuals are coming apart, too. Despite our material opulence and abundance of sexual choices, we’re depressed. People are increasingly alienated from each other, divorcing at record rates, and respond by insulating themselves in electronic diversions and pills. Many commentators have attempted explanations, but I think no one has attacked the question more directly and honestly than anthropologist Helen Fisher in this interview with Krista Tippett:
Ms. Tippett: Right. We don’t have those extended circles of people who know them.
Ms. Fisher: … Serial pair-bonding is probably basic to the human animal, series of partnerships. But what is really unusual, for me, is the loss of local community. We have extended communities — we have our internet friends; we’ve got our work friends; we’ve got our people who we exercise with; we’ve got people who we go to a poetry conference with — whatever it is. But we don’t have local community.
Read the rest at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.
Ben Kaplan is a loner who considers himself the best astrogeologist in the Asteroid Belt. But when he’s blamed for the deaths of two miners on Enceladus, Saturn’s most mysterious moon, he confronts more than a threat to his reputation. When a previously unknown species that rules the moon’s sub-surface ocean captures Kaplan, the only way to save himself is to stop the creatures from destroying the entire colony.
In a wondrous yet deadly setting of underground oceans, organic atomic reactors, and sunlit geysers shooting into space, “Cathedra” is a tale about the individual’s quest for identity and purpose within society, as well as one’s connection to the universe. The title and theme came from this beautiful anecdote:
A man came upon a construction site where three people were working. He asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am laying bricks.” He asked the second, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am building a wall.” As he approached the third, he heard him humming a tune as he worked, and asked, “What are you doing?” The man stood, looked up at the sky, and smiled, “I am building a cathedral!”
This is my first appearance in Metaphorosis, which bills itself as “a magazine of science fiction and fantasy. We offer intelligent, beautifully written stories for adults.” “Cathedra” is hard sci-fi inspired by an article in Astronomy magazine about Enceladus, one of the most promising sites for life in our solar system. (That’s a NASA photo of Enceladus on the cover.)
Our need for a new mythos, that is, a narrative that helps us understand our role in society and the universe, has never been more urgent. Declining church membership, the rise of alternate religions, and the increase in visibility and number of those who consider themselves non-deist clearly indicate that the old narratives simply don’t work for us any more.
And the daily news forces us to realize that our institutions no longer inspire confidence, or instill social order. The division and alienation driving people to acts of madness are red flags telling us we’ve lost our way.
Many commentators claim we need a new mythos to unite and inspire — others say we need to stop speeding down the dead-end road we’re on and get back to the basics. How do we reclaim our humanity and sense of purpose? This short essay from Dispatches from the Cusp looks to science fiction as a signpost leading toward that new mythos:
Within the last couple of centuries, science fiction has served humanity as part searchlight, part sentinel, part prophetic voice.
Originally known as “fantastic fiction” and “speculative fiction,” this artistic genre – genre almost seems an understatement in this context – has not simply entertained us for generations or, for that matter, divined our future. In many instances, science fiction has supplied a kind of evolutionary tug. It not only has also pointed the way toward scientific and technological innovation and our role within this expanded conceptual landscape but has also inspired us to reach for this future – not only to reach toward it but also to conceive and to refine the nature and terms of this quest. To put it another way, science fiction now seems to be integrally bound up in scientific and technological progress, an essential facet of the equation. Much of the scientific and technological progress we have achieved arguably would not have been possible without the clarifying effects of science fiction.
I have also been intrigued for a long time with how science fiction has taken on many of properties of religion, not only in terms of helping us divine the future – no pun intended – but also enabling us to identify, improvise and refine the moral and ethical scaffolding to cope within this emerging future.
I think this writer is on to something. We know that fantastic stories engage deeper responses from readers than mundane exposition. And in a world that’s been flattened by globalism and stripped of its mystery by behavioral psychologists, a renewed sense of wonder is a good place to start if we’re to define a mythos that helps us find our way.
Let’s get started …