It’s no big secret that my love of and connection to science fiction goes as far back as my memory does. However, recently I’ve had cause to reflect on some specific sections of my childhood history with the genre, moments that were formative but perhaps also in need of some long overdue ownership and adult processing on my part.
The first such occasion that I recalled came from my fourth grade year in public school. The United States Air Force base near my school was sponsoring a contest among students to create a piece to go into a themed exhibit that year, “The Future of Flight.” The cynic in me considers now whether or not this was a veiled, long game scheme to recruit kids into the Air Force, but for the sake of this article we’ll assume the best and say that the folks at the base were hoping to inspire creativity and aerospace innovation in the next generation. All of us students were to make a single drawing or similar piece of art, encapsulating what we envisioned to be in the future for human air or space travel. Naturally, my young, excited, relentlessly creative mind jumped at the chance to take anything with the word “future” and go way out there.
Embarrassingly and hilariously, I came up with a concept sketch for Universe War III, showcasing a variety of vessels in combat somewhere off in deep space. I don’t recall all of the designs utilized, except that the main feature ship, the one I told my teacher was the focus of what I interpreted as the contest theme, had strong resemblance to the Excelsior from Star Trek.
Now, I always loved Star Trek from the first time I was ever exposed to it, and even from an incredibly immature age I believe its idealism and progressive message resonated with me, though it would be years before I could ever articulate as such and why. In all honesty of course, I was also an energetic kid with a massive imagination, and I was easily fascinated by space battles, phaser shootouts, and watching Captain Kirk get into fistfights. I didn’t have the capacity to understand violence, its ramifications, or why it was something to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. As such, it was easy to think anything involving space combat was cool, it seemed as though it went part and parcel with adventures in the future. As someone who also studied history enthusiastically from a young age, I think I as well instinctively picked up on humanity’s predilection for warfare and destruction. Before I was ever mature enough to have elucidated upon it, it simply struck me as a given that humanity would perpetuate and expand its world wars once it reached the stars.
…it shouldn’t take much of a leap to figure out that I didn’t win the competition to have my art featured in the exhibit that year. Going too far into the future and science fiction was probably enough to be an automatic pass for the judges, however I also have a nagging suspicion that some ten year old kid predicting that military hawks would get humans into war against the known universe—more than once—struck a nerve. Or maybe they merely thought I was crazy, who’s to say. Regardless, in hindsight and given what an idealist I’ve turned out to be (yeah yeah, I know, despite my salty outer shell of cynicism), it is a bit facepalm-inducing to ever imagine being in a mental state to think of war as “cool.” The lesson there, I think, is in realizing how incredibly short-sighted, immature, reckless, and childishly impulsive it is to think of real warfare as cool or anything even approaching such. In my reckoning, it speaks volumes about the men—and I am emphatically and explicitly referring to males in this context—who in the past and present have plunged our species and planet into warfare.
Science fiction is cool, but war never is.
To be continued