Welcome to Sci-Fi and Fantasy Wednesdays

As I wrote on Monday, one of my commitments for this year to is to start writing on here on a more frequent, regular basis. Given that I literally write fantasy (in the form of my ongoing series, The Redemption of Erâth), and I have a deep love for all things science-fiction, I thought it might be an idea to start a section on this blog dedicated to discussions of all things sci-fi and fantasy-related! I’ll be putting up a new post each Wednesday with something related to these topics, and we’ll see if it catches on!

To start with some background, I owe my love of sci-fi almost wholly to Gene Roddenberry, growing up as I did on a full-fat diet of Star Trek: The Next Generation (I’m not quite old enough to have experienced the original series as it aired, though I certainly watched plenty of re-runs). I absolutely adored the adventures of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and co. as they traveled the galaxy, exploring new worlds and fighting off Romulans and the Borg. I would re-enact episodes constantly in our back yard, and my very first ever original story was actually Star Trek fan fiction!

As I grew older, I had an uncle who also loved science fiction, and introduced me to some of the harder sci-fi stories out there, including Dune (to this day, remaining one of my favorite science-fiction franchises), and countless other books about aliens, spaceships and intergalactic travel. Oddly enough, Star Wars never really took over too much for me – although I remember the old VHS tapes of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader fondly, Star Trek was always my go-to – perhaps because it handled the ‘science’ portion of sci-fi somewhat more accurately.

I was never as much into fantasy, oddly, as a child; I don’t know if this is because there wasn’t any good fantasy on TV, or if it’s because fantasy tends to deal with the past (or fictional past, anyway) whilst I was always dreaming of the future, but it wasn’t really until Peter Jackson’s magnificent rendition of The Lord of the Rings that fantasy truly came to cross my radar as something not only enjoyable, but absolutely worth my time. I hadn’t even read the books by the time I saw the films, although I have since and enjoyed them immensely (dense as they are).

I think that, in some ways, sci-fi and fantasy are two sides of the same coin, which is perhaps why they are so often thrown together on the bookshelves. I don’t think that they necessarily mix terribly well (I suppose there are some examples, such as A Wrinkle in Time), but both – at their best – deal with human conflict in unimaginable settings. For me, the key distinction is really that sci-fi deals with what might one day be possible, whereas fantasy deals more with what might once have been. Whether it’s stories such as The Chronicles of Narnia, set in entirely alternate universes, or Harry Potter, set in an alternate version of modern-day society, fantasy often uses magic as a way of explaining things that are, to our current understanding, impossible; science fiction uses science to do exactly the same thing. And to many, magic is simply a way of describing that which we don’t yet understand – leaving science fiction to simply be rationalized magic.

Of course, the world in which the stories take place – be it galaxies far, far away or the house next door – must serve as the setting for human-driven tales. In Star Wars, despite the often-unrealistic portrayals of space travel and what essentially amounts to magic in the explanations of ‘the force’, we are really seeing a very human story of emotional manipulation, love, death, triumph and tragedy. In Harry Potter, we see … well, almost exactly the same thing.

For me, the best stories are human ones, and the removal of reality from the setting – whether by setting it in space or in Middle-Earth – in some ways simply allows us to focus more strongly on those human traits, characteristics and conflicts, detaching it from reality and giving us an opportunity to wonder – what would I do, in a similar situation?

What are your favorite sci-fi and fantasy stories, books and films? What makes them so great to you? Is it the setting, or is it the human connection? Let me know in the comments!

The Devil’s Details: The Tragedy of a Wasted Imagination

Imagination is an exceptionally powerful thing. It is how we decide; how we play; how we learn. Even those of us who would claim to suffer from a poor imagination nonetheless exercise it on a daily basis: if you’re trying to decide which way to go home, you are essentially imagining which way is going to be best.

But sadly, the imagination often stops at these limited, practical uses. As children, our imaginations were with us. Our companion, our best friend, our life outside of life, imagination was the key that unlocked doors to a world more real and infinite than our own.* And as we grow older, and our lives become overwhelmed by those practical things, our imagination dwindles. We can console ourselves that we still read, that we watch thoughtful and engaging television, but that is really a poor substitute.

This is not to say that we have to act like children (well Einstein did, but look where he got us). All it really takes is a willingness to stop, to think, and to look beyond the surface.

I’m as guilty of this as anybody. I recently shared some photos of gravestones I took. This was one of my favorites:

grave-of-michael-popeI took the picture because I thought the gravestone looked interesting. I was caught by the flowers, and so I took the snap. For a while, it was my favorite simply because of the composition, the way that the image lent itself to colorized black and white, and the hint of further graves behind.

And then, after I’d been working on this picture for some time, I actually stopped to read the epitaph. It reads:



1918 — 1993


And then I started thinking about what this meant. The remains of a man lay beneath this stone. That man’s name was Michael; perhaps he went by Mike. Mike was a boy, once; his childhood might have been good, or it might have been terrible: he was eleven when the stock market crashed and threw the world into one of the worst economic depressions the world has ever seen.

Mike was twenty-one when World War II began; it’s likely he was drafted to fight. There is quite the possibility that Mike has killed people. How did that affect him for the rest of his life?

Mike knew someone else in his family; another Michael Pope – perhaps his father. Mike was thirty-four when this Michael died. This Michael himself was an astonishing ninety-four when he died. Think how incredible that is; when Michael Pope Sr. was ten, there was no such thing as radio. When he died, there was color TV, rock music, two wars whose tragic repercussions lasted long beyond his own life; there were even prototypical computers, though he might never have heard of them.

Our Mike was only seventy-five when he died in 1993. That’s not young, but it’s not old. Why didn’t he live as long as his father? Did he contract pneumonia? Did he suffer from dementia, or alzheimer’s disease? Perhaps he simply fell of a ladder. At some point, Mike took a final breath, and never breathed again. Who was with him when that happened? Maybe he knew his death was coming; maybe he never got to say goodbye to his family.

Of course, Mike might never have had any further family; there are no other Popes interred here. But there is one thing that feels certain: someone loved him very, very much. Someone loved him enough to commemorate him with a black marble gravestone. Someone who, twenty years later, still visits his grave to leave flowers.


* Children these days suffer from a world that stifles the growth of their own imagination. For your children’s sakes, don’t let them while away their childhood with video games and television; from time to time, send them outside with a stick.