If you are unfamiliar with the English alphabet of planet Earth, note that this is part two of our Sci Fi ABeCeDary. Part one (including a brief intro) is here.
[Graphic credits are at the end.]
N – Nichelle Nichols – Her presence as a bridge officer in the original Star Trek in the 1960s had a sci fi meta-effect on real life. It was the realization of what had surely been a “What if..?” for African Americans and for women. (See Afrofuturism, above or in this cool Dust video.) The on-screen kiss between Uhura and Kirk was the first interracial kiss on TV. And as if her work on the show was not enough, NASA actually hired her to recruit women and minorities. From playing in an imagined future to leading us into the real future, she is an example of the efficacy of science fiction as a tool for change – and she wrought that tool like a Space Boss Lady.
O – The Other – The question not only of our times, but of all time: how do we interact with The Other? From the first contact of neanderthals & homo sapiens to first contact between humans and E.T., science fiction is a vehicle for imagining and practicing good techniques and outcomes. And if we can imagine common ground with a different species, who has an excuse for racial discrimination? Earthling, please.
P – Propulsion – We ain’t going anywhere without a good engine. Sci fi that travels has to account for the great distances in space with some way of moving thru it. You can go with cryo-sleep, where folks just kip out for a few decades and wake up in orbit. Some folks just go faster, though: hyperdrives, warp drives, FTL drives and so on — you gotta move.
Q – Qizarate – These are the religious bureaucrats of the jihadic religion in the Dune series. They carry the cult of Paul Maud’Dib to newly conquered corners of the galaxy, and use it to control the population. In sci fi, religion can be handled variously; compare/contrast Star Wars and Star Trek. The qizarate is a dead-on imitation of something we’ve seen in real history, like the Christian church in the “New” World. Sci fi often holds up a mirror.
R – Robots are where man and god meet. Can we create something in our own image? Dare we give our creation autonomy? Is it resurrection or ragnarok – and is there a difference?
S – Supertoys – An important sub-theme of “Robots” is found in Brian Aldiss’ Supertoys Last All Summer Long. This is the short story upon which part of the film AI was based. Because of severe overpopulation in the future, childbirth is restricted by law. Robot children are invented for those not permitted to procreate. Can something artificial, something we build with our own hands, truly fulfill a deep human need?
T – Terraforming – The re-shaping of a planet to make it hospitable to life (as we know it) is a two-edged sword. It is creative if the planet was empty, and it is destructive if the planet was inhabited. There’s some mushy ground there in the middle, but can’t that basic dichotomy be illuminating for some of the environmental issues we wrestle with on planet Earth?
U – Urashima Taro – This is a very, very old Japanese fairy tale. Maybe it can’t be called science fiction, really, but it has ideas that are explored in not only sci fi, but science itself. The titular character rescues a small sea turtle, whose father turns out to be the sea dragon god (or whoever – depending on the version). Whisked off to the undersea palace to be thanked in person, Urashima stays for a few days. When he returns home, he finds that 300 years have passed. So, there’s an idea of time passing differently depending on where you are (which is part of the theory of relativity) and since he returns home to find no one and nothing he knows, you have a sort of fish-outta-water story, like The Forever War or Buck Rogers. All this in a story from the 8th century.
V – V-GER – In the seemingly interminable first Star Trek movie, the crew discovers that at the heart of a truly massive and overwhelmingly powerful cloud… ship… whatever-the-hell-it-is (they don’t know – that’s part of the movie), is a clunky old metal contraption that looks suspiciously like a deep space probe from late 20th century Earth. Surprise! It is! Turns out that one of our Voyager spacecraft ran into someone or fell into a black hole or… honestly, I can’t remember – I’m usually asleep by this point – but anyway, it somehow merged with a life form, something biomechanical, and they got all mixed up and then had the great idea to come home. Except now, it’s become a huge, bumbling, planet-absorbing, machine-baby…thing. So, when we send ourselves out into the universe, what will we run into? Can we ever come back? Do we come back the same?
W – “What if..?” – Science fiction always asks this question. What if we found life on other planets? What if we could visit other dimensions? What if robots took over? What if humans de-evolved? What if…? This is contrasted to adventure stories that just happen to take place in space, for example Star Wars. (Yes, Star Wars is not science fiction, except in the broad sense of “where do you find it on Netflix?” Loving it will not make it sci fi; trust me, I’ve been trying since 1977.)
X – X-23 – mutant, clone, experiment – What is hidden in our DNA, and what can we do about it?
X – eXoplanet – An exoplanet is a planet outside our solar system which circles a star. In other words, a potential earth. The mind races.
YEAH, THERE’S 2 Xs — IT’S SCIENCE FICTION, DUDE
Y – Yoda – “Judge me by my size do you?” He is short, ugly, the “wrong” color, etc. etc. – yet he is powerful and wise. As in science, do not make assumptions. As in religion, “Man looks on the outside.” As in reading: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” This is basic, but we make the mistake all the time. (And Star Wars is still not sci fi.)
Z – Could be “zoom”, could be “zap”, but let’s go with Zero. It is the nothing that is something. It is null yet necessary for really large numbers – and really small ones. It is naked, poor and alone, but it is the Space that connects everything. Is it a Zen Koan? Is it Faith? Is it the void? It could be a black hole; it could be the outer rim planets. It is a leap into the Unknown.
But Zoom and Zap work, too.
O, Q, T, V, Z – Eric Larkin – Yours truly. I never said I was an artist, ok? You try it, smart ass. I’m an idea man.
R – Mika – This 9-foot-tall power-lounger will open the first marshmallow stand on Mars in the year 2032.
S – Sachiko – This former dolphin is evolving faster than the rest of us, as evidenced by her ability to speak thru her nose.
X, Y – Paul Razo – You can see his Tumblr, but it won’t tell you how fast he is. I will: he’s fast.
X – Heather Basile – She does all the designs for the blog and some of our better event graphics. Strong in the Force.