Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: science fiction tropes

Why does the Earth so often have to die?

How many times and in how many different ways have we destroyed the earth?

here's a visualization of a very large asteroid hitting earth.
One common scenario envisions an asteroid impact. 

The “we” in that sentence refers to science fiction writers. Yet again the other day, a friend read a book description out loud, and the rest of us could almost guess how each phrase would go before she said it. A “dying Earth” (COD not specified in this blurb) has been fled by the “last remnants of the human race” who are, of course, “desperate [for] a new home among the stars.”

It doesn’t matter which specific book she was reading about. It’s a trope so common I’d say it’s a cliché at this point.

This shows a visualization of a cloudy earth with nuclear explosions all over the region.
A visualization of the destruction of Earth through war, courtesy of the Hellcat Fandom Wiki.


Is killing the Earth really necessary?

We’re always screwing up the Earth in science fiction

We over-pollute it, overpopulate it, blow it up (or aliens blow it up for us), fill it with fascists who drive us out, fill it with Zombies who drive us out, fill it with invading aliens who drive us out, we pave it, we run out of food, we run out of . . . you know the scenarios

All are pessimistic views of our future, and the underlying idea is twofold: killing our mother is inevitable, and we’ll find refuge in the stars. Somehow, somewhere

Here's an eerie photo of a dump in the early morning, with a little girl walking through clouds of mist generated by escaping gasses.
Widespread environmental destruction is a very real danger, dramatized in this amazing photo of an out-gassing dump in Myanmar. Photo: Nyaung U/United Nations Development Programme 


I’d like to argue that neither is likely, but there’s the oil lobby (to refute the first half). We’ve so far avoided the nuclear holocaust that haunted my childhood during the Cold War, but climate change might just do the job–for humans, anyway. 

I imagine that even if we humans kill ourselves, the planet will do what it’s always done: grow new things that are better-adapted to the new climate reality. Just look at the woods around Chernobyl.

bushes grow where streets were, and vines hang down from the sides of buildings in a visualization of how nature would reclaim cities if people disappeared.
Here’s a modification of a Google Street View by Einar Öberg, exploring the idea of how familiar places might change “after people.” It was inspired by the 2009 History Channel project by that name.

And how ’bout that home among the stars?

As I’ve outlined in earlier postsspace is a really hard place to live, much less be fruitful and multiplyMicrogravity makes everything harderdistances are, well, astronomical, and providing what humans need to survive is hideously expensive, at least right now. 

So let’s soft-pedal the destruction of earth already, people! We still have no good place to go!

A space habitat like a ring of boxes with an odd, forklike center orbits above a pink-looking planet in this visualization of a space habitat.
We’re very far, still, from creating a space habitat that can safely house space-dwelling families and provide for their childrearing needs.

Anyone who looks at a photo of the ISS can see we aren’t currently able to create a viable long-term habitat in space. Who are we kidding, here?

Personally, I’d rather explore the ideas of the Solarpunk movementwhich focuses on sustainable scenarios in science fiction. And yes, this means I’ll talk more about it in future posts.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Universe Today for the asteroid-impact visualization of Earth’s demise; to the Hellcat Fandom Wiki, for the visualization of war on Earth; to the United Nations Development Programme for the otherworldly dump photo; to Einar Öberg  on Geek.com, for the visualization of “earth without people” via Google Street View; and to the Patheos blog “Evangelical” for the Interstellar screen shot.

Challenging assumptions in science fiction: 1. putting my foot in it

I’m probably going to get myself in trouble, writing this series.

Actually, I first began thinking subversive thoughts about the canon assumptions of sf decades ago.

But I wrote the basis-document for this series of posts last summer, while reading Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). It’s the first novel in The Expanse series, which is the basis for the SyFy series of the same name.

First of all, let me say I enjoyed the book, and I do recommend it, although if I go into why the ending disappointed me, it’ll involve spoilers–so I won’t. Go ahead and read the book. Maybe what bugged me about the ending won’t bother you.

In between the squees of delight and the nitpicks, however, I began to form a stronger and stronger opinion, the longer I read: I would absolutely hate living on Ceres. And I bet everyone else would, too.

Why? Because that is a massively dysfunctional, dog-eat-dog society. I’m looking at Ceres, as portrayed in LW, and seriously—that place is a hellhole no Chamber of Commerce PR campaign could pretty up! So why would anyone willingly choose to go there, see what a sorry excuse of a place it was, and then fail to either leave, or work to make it better?

This is not even close to being an exhaustive collection of all the corporations with their eyes on a profitable future in space.

That the cops are run by a corporate contractor is not a stretch, given that we already have corporations leading the way into spaceprivate contractors covering security for more and more corporate and government entities, and for-profit corporations such as CoreCivic run many of our country’s prisons, for well or ill.

GRS (Global Resource Solutions) provided security for the State Department in Benghazi; ACADEMI is better known by Blackwater, its former name; SOC works for the US Departments of State, Energy, and Defense, as well as corporations; Constellis is the parent company of the security firm Triple CanopyCoreCivic is a private prison management company you might remember better as Corrections Corporation of America.

But the clowns and cowboys who pass for law enforcement on Ceres have no concept of professional law enforcement best practices whatsoever. They make some of our more troubled contemporary police departments look like models of even-handed social justice. Even worse for the good people of Ceres, no one in a position of leadership seems interested in requiring them to step up.

Other outstanding reasons NOT to live on Ceres?

  • Human life is apparently cheap, and easily squandered with no penalty.
  • Freedom of speech is nonexistent, and so is freedom of the Fourth Estate.
  • The nutritional base is crap. Seriously? Fungi and fermentation was all they could come up with? Readers of this blog don’t need to guess what I think of this idea.
  • Misogyny is alive and well, but mental health care is not.
To paraphrase, Ceres ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids–at least not the version of it we see in Leviathan Wakes.

Now, I totally understand that sometimes in a story things have to get pretty dark before they get better. The principle of contrast for emphasis is important in most art forms. But I also have begun to get eternally weary of the same not-necessarily-well-founded assumptions being trotted out without all that much examination in novel after novel.

How could such an epic fail of a so-called society as the Ceres of Leviathan Wakes sustain itself? I mean, outside of the canon tropes of SF? Realistically, not too well, in my opinion.

I’ll get deeper into my reasons in upcoming posts. But people, please! We’re writing science fiction, here. Can’t we imagine anything outside of that same predictable rut?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Amazon, for the Leviathan Wakes cover art. 

I am indebted to the following for the logo images used in the Aerospace Logos montage: to Wikimedia Commons for the Spacex logo; to Stick PNG, for the Boeing logo; to LogoVaults for the Orbital Sciences Corporation logo; and to Space Foundation, for the Sierra Nevada Corporation logo. 

I am indebted to the following for the logo images used in the Security and Prisons Logos montage: to LinkedIn, for the GRS logo; to IDPA, the International Defense Pistol Association, for the ACADEMI logo; to SOC for its logo; and to Constellis for its logo. 

Finally, many thanks to Science Versus Hollywood, for the still image of Ceres Station from SyFy’s The Expanse. 

I appreciate you all!

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