Part two of my larger discourse on science fiction. This section focuses on what I am trying to accomplish with my own fiction, before broadening the scope once more to discuss other contemporary works and where the genre is headed.
A thought occurred to me (and was therefore the inspiration for this post) while listening to the soundtrack for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (specifically the Overture) this past week: This is awesome. I remember how stirring an experience it was to witness this movie in theaters at the age of 6. It was my first Star Trek movie seen on the big screen and among my first theater trips overall. Though it misses the mark on some minor details, The Undiscovered Country absolutely nails pacing, tension, characterization, and gives what is perhaps the most noble sendoff of all time to a cast of actors and the characters they play. The movie and soundtrack are underrated in my book.
The feeling I had as a kid watching this movie, that is what I want to be able to recreate for someone else. I’m not so bold as to claim that anything I’ve written or published so far has the same power or magic as a Star Trek VI or Star Wars: A New Hope, but I can strive to get there someday. That’s really the point of it all, to give someone an amazing experience in another world. That is, aside from the whole “exploration of the human condition” bit and trying to convey a message, to get people to think about where we might go if certain things are left unchecked.
Try as any of us might, we can’t reclaim the past. No one is going to be able to create something again that can duplicate the exact creative and cultural impact of Star Trek, Star Wars, The Twilight Zone, Firefly, Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, or The Matrix, to give but a few examples. In the digital age, where media is in our face from an early age and information is at our fingertips on demand, it is easier than ever to become fatigued by stories, to become hyper-aware of tropes, cliches, and tired ideas. When you’ve absorbed a lot of stories as a consumer and then start to make stories as a creator, the predictability and money-pandering present throughout much of modern media becomes painfully evident. Also, what worked in the ’60s, ’70s, and on through the next decades doesn’t necessarily work now. Standards and expectations are different; culture has changed.
It’s been said, I believe by Stephen King, among others, that essentially every kind of story that can be told, has been told, and that there are a surprisingly small, finite number of stories. The trick therefore seems to be to take apart, reconfigure, and recombine these stories in ways that allow them to seem new and original. I’d like to think that collectively, we humans aren’t so creatively limited that we can’t find new stories to tell that truly haven’t been done before, but I suppose only time will inform us. What I do think is untapped as of yet, is not a new story necessarily, but the method by which the reader (or watcher, listener, etc.) takes the story in. Video gaming and VR technology have certainly taken us closer to interactive storytelling, indeed, some of the greatest stories I have ever experienced have been in games (such as Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy IX, Mass Effect 1, to give some examples). The experiences I had in those games are also ones that I, in some form, want to give my readers. However, back to the larger point: What we’re on the cusp of but haven’t quite tackled yet, I believe, is truly organic, interactive storytelling. This is one in which the lines between audience and the creator are substantially blurred, and through technology, the story and characters can react to their audience. Crossing this with either a VR or movie theater-like experience, where the senses are only engaged in the sights and sounds of the story, along with a dynamic soundtrack that adjusts to input (like DOOM (2016), albeit on a more advanced level), and then we’re going to be able to almost literally step into a character’s shoes, to experience other worlds and other points of view. Though like anything humans create, there is the potential to abuse such tech, I think that this next-level storytelling, we’ll call it, could be a powerful tool for empathy, letting us experience other lives without consequence, except perhaps for the growth this would hopefully trigger within us. It would also be a way to live vicariously, to do things that perhaps you are physically incapable of, or even explore aspects of your own personality that perhaps you were afraid to for whatever reason.
Effectively, this paradigm shift I see in the future is not far off from just outright becoming a full virtual simulation, as in the holodeck in Star Trek, but the phase between something as fantastic and almost real as the holodeck, and what exists now, is still exciting to me. Imagine ebooks with interactive soundtracks, with VR plug-ins that let you move in and explore the author’s world as you experience the story. Imagine graphic novels with interactive sound effects, holograms, and dynamic shifting of panels based on your feedback, in the vein of an old Choose Your Own Adventure novel.
I know I went a bit off course there. To rein it back for the sake of today’s post, I do see exciting opportunities for the future of media and storytelling, and I want After Terra and anything I create to help push my readers toward some new and interesting experiences. As of this moment, yes, my novels and this site’s codices are plain old text, but I do have plans to integrate other types of media with the site, and give you the audience a larger canvas to play with in the universe I created. I hope someday someone can feel at least a little bit like I did as that 6 year old kid watching The Undiscovered Country, with something that I’ve created.