Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Yes, I'm a sci-fi fan

I've recently gotten hooked on the TV show, Fringe. I date my taste for science fiction and horror back to The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents when I was a child. Star Trek solidified this preference. By the time I reached middle school, this taste was cemented with Ray Bradbury's books, particularly Something Wicked This Way Comes. The fascination developed even further when I saw Frank Langella as Dracula when I was in college and finally got the sex appeal of vampires. The first Star Wars movies made science fiction enjoyment socially acceptable for awhile. Then I grew up.

As an adult, I came to regard both science fiction and horror as a secret vice. It wasn't something that I could discuss with my book loving friends. My enjoyment of Stephen King just didn't fit in with my book discussion group that spent two months on discussing Eliot's The Wasteland. (Two months on one poem was one reason that particular group disbanded.) I love Capital L Literature. I'm currently re-reading Sense and Sensibility. I crack out the Shakespeare fairly often, but I've finally embraced that the monsters, robots, vampires, and wizards deserve their place of honor with me as well. The wild imaginative creations and nightmares of science fiction and horror are just the fun part. What I love about these genres is how they reveal human nature by pitting it against an extreme that couldn't, just couldn't, or my mind would explode, happen. It was Bradbury who first showed this to me, and Fringe has reaffirmed it.

One of the main characters is Walter Bishop, a scientist who once worked in fringe science research (undefined but involving a good bit of quantum physics and genetics) at Harvard. After the death of a lab assistant, Walter is committed to a hospital for the mentally ill for nearly two decades. He is released into the protective custody of his shady son and a tough, attractive female FBI agent (yes, this show owes a debt to The X-Files) when his expertise is needed in a bizarre case. Political correctness aside, Bishop is a mad scientist. He alternates autopsies done with the enthusiasm of a kid with a new toy with taking self concocted hallucinogens while listening to his old collection of rock albums from the seventies. Aware of his precarious mental state, he combines joy at being part of the unlocked world again, a monster sized intelligence that revels at working in science, and regret over the outcome of some his work with the confusion, memory lapses and bizarre behavior of someone who has needed mental health care. John Nobles, who plays Bishop, also brings a good bit of charm and a weird but undeniable sex appeal, to the character.

I knew I was completely hooked on this show when Peter Bishop told Agent Dunham that he had always seen his father's illness as something that Walter had done to his family and only now could see it as something that happened to his father. He thought how hard it must be to always be second guessing the workings of one's own mind. Until then, I'd enjoyed stuff like the creepy parasite that surrounded one victim's exposed beating heart and the genetically mutated monster larvae that were growing in another agent's bloodstream. In that conversation, they hit upon a truth.

My own experiences with depression drove this moment home. We all have an inner critic, but when depression has its grips on me hard, the inner dialogue telling me just what a loser I always have been and always will be is nearly incessant. It's taken more discipline to recognize these thoughts as the voice of an illness than I can explain. It is a matter of second guessing, of discerning what is a valid self acknowledgement of weakness that can help me grow from the confusion and distortion of thought that depression causes. It is hard sometimes to tell the difference. It can be exhausting, and I can only imagine how much more difficult it must be with more serious illnesses. Yet a simple TV show, silly science fiction at that, showed it clearly. Good writing at its heart is about telling a truth. That transcends any genre.


Blogger alphawoman said...

I'm reading a book called Big, Little and I think it is a fantasy book of some sort. Rave reviews on the back cover. I am trying to get into it....but....It seems that we enjoy and relish one or two genres to the exclusin of others. What are we missing out on? I do not read romance novels but my boss (IQ 170 Ha!) loves them!

November 13, 2009 10:23 AM  
Blogger Virginia said...

I read this while watching the movie "Serenity" (for perhaps the fourth time). I too enjoy science fiction, and the humanity found in it.

Peace, Virginia

November 15, 2009 6:46 PM  

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