I received a request to write a proposal for a children’s Easter holiday workshop the other day. It’s the sort of thing I do quite often, except this time the theme is “Space”. Hmm, quite a bit off my usual patch. In my imagination I travelled out in to space to see what I could find… Just light years of nothing and then a star with a single ball of rock floating round it. Bare, lifeless rock. Out here is the realm of mathematicians and theoretical physicists. It’s no place for a storyteller, I’m all at sea as it were. My mother used to sing an old music hall song, briefly I hear her voice “We joined the navy to see the world, and what did we see? We saw the sea!” Space is much the same but on a significantly larger scale. As I shake myself out of my reverie I feel a pang of misplaced anthropomorphic sympathy for the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it leaves our solar system behind and heads off in to the silent emptiness.
Closer to home there are the stories of our brave astronauts but they are pretty removed from my stock in trade, being for the most part fairly short on plot development and, though I may be wrong, I suspect have very dry source material in NASA reports even dustier than thousand year old manuscripts. I even spent a little while wondering if I could borrow a leaf out of Brian Cox’s book and wax lyrical about the wonders of nebula, star formation, novae, white dwarves and the like but it all seems somewhat impersonal.
Then I remembered the other space, the imagined space of the future, the romanticised and densely populated space of science fiction. Suddenly I can feel myself back on home turf. The original series of Star Trek saw Kirk, Spock and co. turning up on planets sporting Grecian columns and beings with god-like powers on an almost weekly basis, a fair number of the plots were directly stolen from mythology. The Next Generation continued the pattern. The writers were sufficiently aware of their debt to legendary material that Captain Picard once found himself baffled by an alien race who’s whole method of communication was via references to episodes in their mythology. Voyager goes one step further with their long journey home being entirely based on the Odyssey.
It’s not just Star Trek but Star Wars too, which was famously written to exactly fit with the Hero’s Journey as distilled from myth by Joseph Campbell. The StarGate franchise is even more obviously based on the old tales as it’s whole premise is that the gods of the ancient world were aliens who came here to variously enslave or protect human kind. As the SG1 team travel through the universe using wormholes in space created by the eponymous gate they run in to Apophis, Hathor, Thor and many other familiar characters.
Back in the real world, a recent search for planets that are a similar distance from their sun as earth is from ours, and may therefore support something we recognise as life, has turned up far more candidates than previously thought. The odds on there being life out there are getting better (or worse if you like a long shot) all the time. In fact scientists have found amino acids and organic compounds on asteroids and are now considering the theory that the beginnings of life on earth were brought here on a meteor.
So it may be that science fiction is science fact, our myths, and indeed ourselves, may have come from out there in the first place and there really is nothing new under this sun at least. As I turn my mind’s eye once more beyond our solar system I find I am looking at a very different space.
…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.