A Failure of Imagination


Last night I watched the first episode of Killjoys. It’s a new show airing on Syfy and it’s actually science fiction. That’s something I want to encourage more of, especially since there was also an ad for Sharknado 3: No, We Don’t Have a Sense of Shame, Why Do You Ask?.

Killjoys was entertaining enough, I suppose. I have no interest in watching it again, but if it were on and I had nothing better to point my eyes at, I would be fine with watching it. It seems constructed largely of tropes and stereotypes, though to be fair, at least the Asian guy hasn’t shown himself to be a martial arts expert. Yet. Though, hey, at least in that one episode I saw more Asians than an the entire run of Firefly

Anyhow, the program also displayed something else that caught my attention. It’s something I’ve noticed with a lot of science fiction over the last few years, especially that which you see on television. It showed an incredible lack of imagination in depicting the future.

I don’t know how far into the future the series took place, but it was far enough away that hyperlight travel seemed to exist, as do large spaceships and colony worlds that are very far from Earth. Are those colony worlds somewhat lawless places ruled over by an entity simply called “The Corporation”? Of course they are, because apparently it’s still 1988.

But ignoring that, and ignoring the somewhat dodgy special effects that frankly paled next to those of Red Dwarf, what really caught my attention was how much like “now” this future looked. People dressed basically the same, there was a guy riding a Vespa, and all the props and buildings looked pretty much the same. This future was, essentially, the present, but with spaceships.

If this was something largely confined to this one show, I wouldn’t have noticed or cared, and it is something that can be used to great effect in some programs (Battlestar Galactica, for example), but here, as in so many other programs, including Firefly, and my beloved Doctor Who, which does this all the time lately, it just comes across as corner-cutting and a complete lack of vision

Even movies suffer from this problem. I quite liked Interstellar, but despite taking place 20 minutes into the future, we never really got much of a sense that it was happening at any time other than roughly now.

This hasn’t always been the case. Look back at sci-fi TV and movies during the 1970s. Logan’s Run, Space: 1999, Star Trek (in all its incarnations), Blake’s 7, and even the original Doctor Who frequently depicted futures that were very different and looked and felt almost nothing like here and now. There was exceptions within the programs, it’s true, but the bridge of any of the starships Enterprise looks far more interesting and futuristic than anything I’ve seen on most TV or movies lately.

Now all of those shows and movies haven’t aged especially well when it comes to certain design elements, but I’m willing to bet that 30 or 40 years from now, if anyone remembers Killjoys, it won’t have aged particularly well, either. But at least the other TV programs and movies mentioned here were trying to show something interesting and new and different. Killjoys, and so many other shows like it, seem to just want to show us the current world, with nothing especially interesting to it. That’s sad, and it’s a shame. Science fiction should try to showcase the different, the strange, the alien, the future, and do so with some real vision to it. But good luck finding that these days.

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