Saving the Galaxy

Science fiction likes to work on huge scales.  And with few resources.  One common theme I’ve noticed that runs through many science fiction novels and short stories is the idea of one person or a small group of people saving–with just their wits and maybe a weapon or two–a huge section of space such as an entire planet, or a star system, or a section of a galaxy, or even the entire galaxy itself.  Many times it’s only one or two people, and not always the person or people you’d expect.  It’s frequently not the captain of the starship, but rather someone else lower down on the team.  And when they’re through, they walk away as though nothing significant happened and go back to what they were doing before the attack occurred.  But the plot thread of a small group saving the world, or at least the world they know, is relatively common.  It occurred in Star Trek several times.

One well-known example is Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, where Ender, a teenager and a whiz at space-themed computer games, saves Earth and the entire solar system from destruction by the invading forces by just his sheer skill at manipulating spaceships to defeat the enemy forces.  He’s so good the admirals and generals whom you’d expect to have considerably more knowledge in that field than him, simply sit around and watch.  I always found that terribly unlikely, and have never wanted to write a story using that sort of plot.

The movie Independence Day is also a good example.  Two guys commandeer a small scout ship from the enemy (and, very unrealistically, learn how to fly it in about five minutes) and then go out to do battle with the invaders.  Makes a good story and a movie, but is so highly unlikely, even patently ridiculous, I can’t get into it.

This type of story line isn’t unique to science fiction, it occurs in other genre, too.  James Bond did it often.  But it seems to have taken hold in sci-fi to the extent that it’s a very common plot theme.  Personally, I like to keep my stories oriented more toward an individual or small group doing nothing but saving themselves, either from invaders, from well-meaning friends, or from their own faults and shortcomings.  This seems to me to make a more realistic story line, even if it happens to be set in the distant future.  Just like us today, people in the future will always have serious interpersonal relationships.  We may travel to distant planets or even galaxies at supra-light speeds, but that’s not going to expunge all our problems.  Robots may serve us all our wants and wishes, and clean the floor in the process, but we’ll always  have to take care of our own emotions.  What goes on inside our head will never be automated like Star Trek‘s Commander Data, and novels and short stories will always be written to point that out.

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