It was several days ago, as I was driving home from a friend’s place in the sultry dark of night that I noticed the change…
Perhaps it was the rain and the winding road that nudged my psyche to wander into that other realm. Or was it the motion picture The Fountain that I’d seen the evening before—a surrealistic journey of the mind and the soul through crisis and toward enlightenment, true love and “ever-lasting life”?
Or had it more to do with the fact that I’d been, for various reasons, without sleep for over forty hours, that I glimpsed the ordinary in an extra-ordinary light?
Light had everything to do with it, too…Amber traffic lights at a construction site pulsed like living things…smoky clouds billowed over an inky sky…a garish screen of trees, caught in the beams of my car as I turned a corner, screamed quietly…a half-built apartment building loomed up like the dark tower in Lord of the Rings… I was reminded of a scene early on in The Fountain where the viewer is disoriented initially by a busy street at night because it was shot upside down—ironically, in my hometown of Montreal and I didn’t even recognize it.
Have you ever done that? Looked backward or craned while driving through a familiar scene to gain a different perspective? And felt different for just a moment? Like you’d briefly entered a different dimension and glimpsed “the other”?
What is it like to meet “the other”?
I firmly believe that we ultimately define ourselves through our experience and our approach of the unfamiliar. A new relationship. A stranger in town. A different culture. An alien encounter…
How do we react? Is it with fear? Wonder? Curiosity?
This is why the genre of science fiction so vividly and deeply and satisfyingly explores our humanity. By describing “the other” science fiction writers describe “us”. Who we are and where we might go. It is, after all, through our own eyes that the other is described and viewed.
The very best science fiction does this impeccably. Think of your favorite SF authors and books… Here are some that stand out for me:
- Robert J. Sawyer’s Calculating God or his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy
- Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris
- Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot
- John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids
- Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed or The Left Hand of Darkness
- Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles
I know I’ve left out so many…What are some of your favorites?
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.