1. It gives you a hopeful vision of the future.
As I’ve mentioned on Twitter, my spouse and I have been slowly watching Star Trek: The Original Series over the past few months.
One of the things I appreciate the most about this show is its unbridled optimism. The characters live in a time and place where no humans go without the stuff they need to survive.
Everyone always has enough food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and education. Regardless of who you are, you have a chance to explore the deepest galaxies. Nothing will hold you back from fulfilling your potential if you’re willing to work for it.
To run a society otherwise is completely unthinkable to them.
If anything is possible for Captain Kirk and his fearless crew, the same might be said for us as well one day.
2. It warns about darker times ahead.
Not all science fiction series are cheerful or hopeful, of course. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
The world Offred lived in before the Sons of Jacob took over was nothing at all like the quietly terrifying life she lead a few years later as a citizen of Gilead. She’s lost her partner, her only child, her name, her identity, and her ability to make even the smallest decisions about how her life turns out.
I like the fact that this genre switches between warning us of the dangers of fundamentalism in any form and giving us tantalizing glimpses of what could be in store for humanity if we uncouple work from money and learn to stop discriminating against people for things that should have no influence how they contribute to society.
We’ll need both the lure of the carrot and the rightful fear of the stick to have any chance of creating a better world.
3. It defies your expectations.
Not everything in life is always as it seems.
Think about the opening scene in Buffy the Vampire Slayer where late one night a teenage girl is followed into a deserted alley by a menacing stranger.
In most shows, this would end with her being attacked or killed.
Buffy isn’t like other teens, though. Without giving away too many spoilers about a nearly 20-year-old show, she isn’t the one who should be worried about what could happen when no one else is watching.
As soon as I saw this scene, I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to her next. I’d never seen a female character like her before, and I was thrilled to imagine a world where a girl doesn’t have to worry about who might be following her or what their intentions were.
4. It teaches skepticism.
One of my favourite things about watching The X-Files episodes back in the day was trying to figure out what would happen to the victim of the week when he or she ran into something or someone that defied explanation.
You had to be pretty intelligent and resourceful to survive one of these encounters. There was little room for self-doubt or for going back to get a second glimpse of whatever it was that sent a shiver down your spine.
The mainstream media wasn’t necessarily something to count on, either. How it described a situation after the fact was almost never correct.
You had to rely on your own observations instead of what they wanted you to believe. While this isn’t always the best way of figuring out the truth, I’d much rather have people think critically about what they’re told than swallow everything hook, line, and sinker.
Science fiction is such an important and unique genre.
It pulls us away from the dangers of fanaticism.
It pushes us to imagine brighter futures for everyone, not just a select few.
It challenges our preconceptions about what life should or could be like.
Humanity will need more of all of these things in the coming years. I, for one, will be reading a lot of science fiction and dreaming about all of the futures that could be in store for us. Only time will tell if it will be closer to Gilead or to the Federation.
Do you have a favourite sci-fi show that wasn’t mentioned in this post? Tell me about it in the comment section below! I’d love to hear from you.