Story Excerpt Sunday: “Fantasy and Science Fiction in the Modern Age” from Speculative Journeys by Irene Radford

Speculative JourneysFantasy and Science Fiction in the Modern Age

from Speculative Journeys

a collection of short SF and contemporary fantasy

by Irene Radford

October is the month of season changes, of chilly nights and increasing rains. The nights grow longer and the darkness creeps forward bit by bit. It is a time of harvest, preparation for the long winter, and celebration.

Since time began people have gathered their loved ones close at this time while hunkering down before the fire, waiting for the return of light and life. The feasts during harvest bounty have been a time to share and reflect upon family heritage, about past legends, about those who have gone before and those who might still linger in the shadows.

It is a time to explore folklore and teach the next generation the common morality exemplified in myth and legend.

October is a time of transition, neither summer nor quite full autumn, not quite cold enough for long underwear but too chilly for just a cotton sweater; like twilight, neither one thing or another, neither here nor there; a time when the boundaries between realities blur and doors open into…possibilities.

These other realities might hold creatures of magic and wonder, great heroes and wonderful critters like unicorns and pixies and dragons. Or we might peek through a door into ghosts with agendas or worse: chaos, demons, and nightmares.

This is the stuff of Fantasy fiction, of the worlds I live with every day. My library is filled with books like: Encyclopedia of Fairies, Druid Magic, Green Witchcraft, and Dancing with Dragons. Research, every bit of it, no matter how indulgent the books feel to me personally.

Have any of you ever attended a science fiction convention—a con in the slang of the genre? I’ve been to cons where a panel discussion on the relative merits of Star Trek vs. Babylon 5 broke out in fisticuffs. Fortunately most are more benign. Some years ago I attended WesterCon—the Western Regional Convention—in Portland, Oregon over the July 4th weekend. I entered the lobby of the rather nicely appointed conference hotel and was confronted by a couple painted bright blue with antennae and something strange around their eyes, wearing loin cloths and not much else. If they had moved any closer together they would have been Siamese twins.

I was taken aback for a moment—and I’m used to these spectacles. I almost ran over a man staring gape-mouthed at the costumed couple. He was wearing neatly pressed shorts and a golf shirt. His watch fairly screamed “Steal me, I’m worth it.” He did not belong to this convention. Seeking to render aid and comfort I said something inane like, “You’ve obviously never been to a Science Fiction Convention before.” He replied, “No. But I used to work for JPL—Jet Propulsion Laboratories—and it’s not much different.” As the conversation continued he admitted that the young punk R&D types tended to watch a lot of Star Trek, play a lot of computer games, and generally lived in a different reality—although they didn’t paint themselves blue and wander around three-quarters naked.

The different realities inhabited by the R&D types are realms of the imagination. They are not limited by societal conventions. They are worlds of possibilities. There are rules but traditions are more flexible. Tomorrow is uncharted territory where anything can happen. The next “can’t-live-without” gadget is only an idea away. Just like Science Fiction.

Star Trek portrays life in a world that should be—one world government, one economy. Pollution and global warming vanish because of advances in science, hunger and privation are wiped out, there are great advances in medicine and a distinct separation of church and state worldwide.

Kay Kenyon’s Seeds of Time shows us a world gone mad with the environment in total chaos from pollution and the drastic measures that must be taken to begin a correction. Two different views of the future and what we as humans may advance to—or be reduced to.

Science Fiction also gives us a change of perspective. A Classic Star Trek episode with two men, one Half-black, the other Half-white. Let That Be Your Last Battlefield aired January 10, 1969, season 3, episode 15, after a year of race riots all around the country. True bigots would not have been watching Star Trek, but for an eighteen–year-old girl, who had spent a number of her formative years in the Deep South, that episode hit me hard in the heart. I sat stunned at the potential destruction of our society.

Then there was an episode from Star Trek The Next Generation where an androgynous race views gender orientation as foul, perverted, in need of desperate and drastic cure. The Outcast, season 5 episode 15, first aired March 14, 1992. I remember the next day GEnie, the social media of the day, exploded with comments for and against this issue. It made us think twice, or three times, about gender issues.

Science Fiction and Fantasy take place far, far away, long ago, or way in the future, possibly in another reality or galaxy. It doesn’t affect us here and now. And yet it does. We can view controversial subjects sideways, without the barrier of our prejudices.

Science Fiction gives us permission to change our minds.

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Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move.

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