I think about science fiction a lot. Too much, truth be known. Incessantly. Even – especially – whilst doing other tasks. Household chores and stuff. Is that a form of mental divergence, like the tuxedo-clad fellow in Twelve Monkeys (1995) describes to James Cole in the psychiatric hospital? Or just regular daydreaming (of electric sheep)?
Science fiction is a sprawling genre which, according to Forrest J. Ackerman, was formerly (and briefly) known as scientifiction. Personally, I’ve found especially in times of grief or profound emotional and/or existential turmoil, that I have come to rely upon science fiction, or sci-fi, or SF, or sf, or whatever you want to call it. Despite its often-doomy predictions, apocalyptic imagery, threats, ultimatums, or at best dire warnings for our race – the stuff Susan Sontag wrote about in her 1965 essay The Imagination of Disaster and Michael Rennie delivered better than Keanu Reeves (sorry, love you, Keanu) – it’s a comfort blanket. As a for instance, in the distant past I’ve suffered through migraines on the sofa accompanied by some joyously terrible Ed Wood and Toho Showa era Godzilla movies. Somehow the nausea, aura and frantic kaiju screeching complement one another.
I was born the same year that Blade Runner came out (the unpopular version). My wife was born the year The Terminator was released. Is it bad that’s how I remember things? I spent my childhood relating to the world via pop-culture references. I don’t recall my first taste of science fiction as such (Space Raiders crisps would be an obvious joke here), but I guess He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’s unique blend of toy advertising-space barbarian-space fantasy-space opera-moral summation-hokum is a good bet. I later sold my whole collection at a car boot sale for twenty pounds. My teeth are gritted as I write that. I had a lot of Star Wars figures too, owing to hand-me-downs from older neighbour kids. Come to think of how long the delay used to be between cinema and TV, I probably played with Star Wars toys (and listened to child-friendly audio cassette spin-off stories) for a long time before I actually saw one of the films. After they spent a wedge of time in the loft, my mum infamously gave my Star Wars toys away – action figures, vehicles – to Scope (then still called The Spastics Society, which possibly gives you an idea how ancient I feel and simultaneously makes you cringe at pre-political correctness society). It was right before I found out how much they were worth, or at least that’s how I tell the story, so you can imagine I was not best pleased. My mum claimed she kept Yoda because he was cute, but he never reappeared (unlike in those recent sequels, am I right?) Anyway, I have a dilithium crystal clear memory of seeing the chestburster scene from Alien (1979) on the TV at my friend’s house. We snook a peek through the crack in the door. It left an impression.
I think a lot about nostalgia in relation to mental health. During the first Covid-19 pandemic lockdown in 2020, I had an overwhelmingly strong urge to buy some Eaglemoss Doctor Who figurines. In an ironically illogical way, I planned to collect only the emotionless Cybermen from the original run of the series, rationalising this by stating they were design classics. Somehow, following this admittedly irrational and entirely subjective line of thinking, I ended up with a bunch of Cybermen, a Silurian and two Ice Warriors traipsing across my Dick Shelf (what I call my bookshelf filled with Philip K. Dick books).
During that first lockdown frenzy in 2020, when my wife was teaching herself to recreate meals from restaurants that we both missed and learning to bake the most delicious gluten free cakes, I joined a science fiction book club and planned a collaborative sci-fi fanzine. I was off like a rocket, researching minutiae about Invaders from Mars (1953) and its crap remake (1986). I got so wrapped up in that project that I got a friend to 3D print several free “patterns” I found online, of the Martian Intelligence and the Martian Mu-tant drone characters. I still haven’t painted them.
I often whistle the Star Trek: The Original Series theme in the shower. We had it played on the church organ at our wedding. When one organist complained it was too hard to learn and suggested he play the Star Trek: Voyager theme instead, I had him replaced.
Whilst purchasing Eaglemoss Doctor Who figurines in the mania of the first lockdown, I also asked for starship models and a Xenomorph figurine as birthday presents. Again, at the time it all seemed perfectly normal. I can see now how it might have seemed like a breakdown. I was just celebrating the things I love, I told myself, whilst reconsidering how we occupy and interact with all the spaces in our lives, and anxiously ruminating our collective, new, far more immediate relationship to death. Somewhere in there I bought a second Gorn.
I think about Star Trek and its utopian vision of the future, the potential for our species, a great deal. Like so many others out there, it’s not a stretch at all to state that the ethics of Star Trek have formed an important foundational part of who I am, and who I try to be. And I’m not just talking about my Captain Kirk pyjamas (not pictured – thank me later).
The thing is I need to be present, even whilst constantly thinking of the future (or the most recent episode). I try to be a good husband and father. I take my son out picking apples and blackberries. I bake crumble. I read to him. We play. We plant carrots and vegetables. It’s just that when he watches TV, I read a book, or I catch up on upcoming sci-fi movie spoilers. I’m so bored of Blippi.
Actually, my son recently watched (half of) his first film – Lilo & Stitch (2002). Pretty sci-fi. Since then, he’s inherited my old Stitch toy and beheaded it. He runs around the house shouting, “Oh no, Lilo!”
The other day I was reading a sci-fi website on the toilet when my son ran in, smacking my face with the door (a blow softened by towels and dressing gowns) and declaring his intention to use the potty. There’s no privacy anymore.
I lost my dad to cancer in 2021. My grandma died a few years ago, not long after a dear friend. Each time, my grief manifested as me receding inside pop-culture from my childhood – comforting stodgy sci-fi. I collect my thoughts. I collect myself. In most instances of grief, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have figured pretty strongly. A cramped NECA shelf attests to that. I mention the TMNT here because the vibrant, silly franchise I find so sentimental and satisfying is, in some of its many iterations, a story about the continued threat of alien invasion. Imagining disaster, indeed.
‘How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.’ – Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan* (1982)
*That movie also came out the year I was born, in case you weren’t paying attention.
September 09, 2021