Sunday, April 8, 2012

Science Fiction and Planetes

2 years before his death Science Fiction writer Philip Dick stated

"I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards. Okay, so I should revise my standards; I'm out of step. I should yield to reality. I have never yielded to reality. That's what SF is all about. If you wish to yield to reality, go read Philip Roth; read the New York literary establishment mainstream bestselling writers….This is why I love SF. I love to read it; I love to write it. The SF writer sees not just possibilities but wild possibilities. It's not just 'What if' - it's 'My God; what if' - in frenzy and hysteria. The Martians are always coming"

His quote also captures why so many readers have embraced not only the science fiction genre but also fantasy as well. It is that yearning for escape and rempant freedom of the imagination that draws people away from their own world and into the authors. It allows them to create it in their minds until it is not really a fantasy, but a living breathing world for their imaginations. It's very similar to how so many fandoms turn into living and breathing communities that allows the fans to mold and play with a world and finally personalize it. They are all expressions of creativitiy. 

As I was reading Planetes from mangaka Yukimaru Makoto, I was struck by many different ideas and quotes as I was reading. I wrote them all down as I was reading this rather profoundly short 4 volume manga. Tokyo Pop, may them somehow rise from the ashes, released it in English and I strongly urge whoever reads this to invest in it. It is thought provoking and timeless as any true science fiction work should be. 

It is the very nature of science fiction to make it's audience question what could happen in the future. There is some science fiction that can be way out of left field and is much more entertaining than thought provoking, we can put Star Trek and Star Wars into this category. While this type of science fiction can make millions of dollars at the box office and reign in the #1 spot on the New York Times Best Selling list, they do don't usually leave the audience feeling like they watched Blade Runner all over again. Then there is the science fiction camp where Ray Bradbury and Philip Dick that reestablished that truly thought provoking and philosophical science fiction that makes it's readers question and ponder. The type of science fiction that actually leads to universities offering Science Fiction Literature classes. Philip later wrote,

"I am a fictionalizing philosopher, not a novelist; my novel & story-writing ability is employed as a means to formulate my perception. The core of my writing is not art but truth. Thus what I tell is the truth, yet I can do nothing to alleviate it, either by deed or explanation."

It is this philosophical thinking in certain science fiction that draws me, and millions of other people toward it. When I was in high school I read Ray Bradbury's Illustrated Man and Fahrenheit 451. It was the first time I had really read a science fiction that made me think about what the possible future looked like. There were so many modern sociological view points and social commentary in them that I could not help but think about them. This manga is a science fiction that is on the same par with these greats of the genre. 

Yukimura Makoto is now serializing a whole different type of manga in Vinland Sage, but this short 4 volume manga made me think of many different things as I was reading. There were thought provoking quotes that I wrote down and there were references to great Japanese writer Miyazawa Kenji that could not help but be profound in it's intertextualization. The search for the truth has advanced civilization and modern science to some of the farthest reaches of our universe. Starting with Galileo through Newton and into the modern space organizations, science and man has pushed past it's small dot into the vast amount of empty space. Like the quote from Tsiolkovsky that Hachimaki tells his father, "Mother Earth is the cradle of mankind...But no one spends his whole life in the cradle", this quote does not only apply to the astronautics, but also harkens to the explorers of centuries past who pushed the limits of their known worlds to seek more. This constant search or truth and a limit to our own existence.

This is a search that Hachimaki and all the others on the debris rocket Toy Box go through during the 4 volumes. A Russian, American, and a Japanese all flying through space to collect debris that has collected in orbit around the Earth. The Moon finally has it's space station and people and man has been to Mars. These exploits cannot help but seem impressive when the whole story takes place a scant 50 years in the future. Being an astronaut is a real job that pays year round, but takes you away from your family for months and sometimes years. There is a whole spacing culture and mindset that are thriving and supplying products for consumers.

Yet the reverse of these triumphs is that man has exhausted all the resources on Earth and is now moving toward other planets to feed it's never ending thirst for resources and natural gases. It has created it's own problems with how much man should be allowed to move into space. One quote from the manga states it perfectly when Yukimaru states, "The more advanced we become, the more problems we introduce to humanity". How true and thought provoking this quote is and at the moment when there are too many problems that do not have answers, when the world economy is on the slump, terrorism is thriving and man is still pushing itself further into space. 

Throughout this manga there is modern commentary on racism, terrorism, religion, love, science, and what it means to exist in the vast emptiness of space. Very well thought out and very well ended. Some may say that it ended rather roughly, but I feel that when you understand science fiction, you understand that there is no real end to the imagination and willpower of human kind. 

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