Hidden Figures, Subtle and Beautiful.

Image resultI finally saw Hidden Figures after receiving lots of recommendations from family members. In truth, I wanted to check it out immediately but low funds delayed the best of plans. In short, the movie was engaging and quietly awesome. It made me feel sadness, embarrassment, frustration, and joy. The plot showed subtle and obvious distinctions in sexism and racism in painful, societal ways. The film plucks at the heartstrings with moving performances and historical accomplishments. I hope at least one of these fine actresses get an Academy nod. Taraji Henson in particular did a fine job in portraying a reticent yet brilliant woman stuck in an all-male, all-white situation. The film showed that her coworkers considered her the lowest member but she often proved to be the highest asset. Her frustrated explosion at her boss made the audience want to cheer her on.

While watching, I first felt horrified and embarrassed on how the “colored computers” or “West computers” were treated. The label “computer” as a job title originated when extremely intelligent women hired  for solving complex equations. Originally in the 1940s and 1950s, they were white women but then as demand rose, black women were hired as well. Considering these ladies’ usefulness and high intelligence levels, the minority women were treated poorly and as easily replaceable, which they were not. As the movie moved through their everyday affairs, the audience saw how these women were dismissed even by men in their own community, damned by their sex. The joy came, of course, when each struggling individual broke through barriers and helped the rockets soar. The ladies’ personal pride in their work shone through and their accomplishments were finally recognized.

It is  hard for me to think in terms of those barriers and insidious attitudes. I hope I would be better in my treatment of anyone. I certainly would not tolerate it in others, but in that age and society, racism was so normalized. This is something I never want to see again in America. I’ve experienced bigotry and sexism but not on so constant a level. When I was sixteen, I had a boss who could only refer to his female employees in terms of obscenities and body parts. Imagine how that makes a young girl feel. Unfortunately, many of these horrible attitudes are deeply buried in some people and, like cockroaches in the darkness, still creep out now and again.

I saw Hidden Figures the day after so many (millions in fact) concerned citizens of all colors and genders took to the streets to make their voices heard about fears of the new government. Because of those protests, this movie is incredibly timely. So many people fear the return of bleak days of racism, sexism, separateness, and inhumanity. This film serves as a reminder of those terrible times. It tells us we can overcome our preconceived ideas and baser nature to become better individuals.

So I say to those out there, fight the darkness trying to edge back into our country’s collective minds.

Fight sexism.

Resist marginalization.

Destroy racism.

And support each other no matter the creed, color, sex, or lifestyle. We are most powerful when we stand united against those who would tear any of us down.

One of my favorite quotes:

 First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

-MARTIN NIEMÖLLER

 

Hard Science Fiction: Aliens Need Not Apply

Good, hardcore science fiction is glorious. It shows us what the human race is capable of, both good and bad. Notice I said science fiction, which takes known theory and extrapolates it to the realm of possibility.

Science Fiction/Fantasy

Science fiction: a genre of speculative fiction, typically dealing with imaginative concepts such as futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life. (Wikipedia)

Science Fantasy: a mixed genre within the umbrella of speculative fiction which arrivalsimultaneously draws upon and/or combines tropes and elements from both science fiction and fantasy. It also sometimes incorporates elements of horror fiction. (Wikipedia)

The above definitions are the accepted versions but mine is a bit different. My definition distinguishes science fiction from those books and movies that feature any aliens or pseudo-science hand waving events (i.e. magic), including the Force. No one knows what aliens look like. Everything about aliens of any type is completely made up. We can make guesses based on our biology but that is about it. Thus, much as I love movies like Star Wars, Aliens, Star Trek, or even Cloverfield, they all tend to lean towards science fantasy even though they may feature some exciting futuristic ideas.

Science Fantasy

On the other hand, I, Robot, Gravity, and even the old Forbidden Planet all fall more under forbidden-planet science fiction because they use facts and established theories to get from plot point A to B in the story. The path can stretch the imagination a bit but the science is still clear. For those who would say, “But wait! The Krell were aliens!” I agree but the monster was  based on man’s psychology. The Krell were merely a plot device to explain the monster. By the way, this movie was the first time I’d ever heard of the id, ego, and superego as a kid.

That is why I love great science fiction. The audience can always learn something from the plot. For instance, Interstellar was a thought-provoking film, and in some cases difficult to understand, but it did an excellent job in showing relativity and space travel.

Mixing Fantasy and Reality

Consider these definitions as the polar points on a continuous line. Most science fiction books and movies fall somewhere along that line with only a few being solely parked at hardcore or fantastical.

Even Arrival, a wonderful first-contact movie, features some great linguistics ideas but also tentacled creatures, which puts it on the edge of science fantasy. It also teaches a great lesson in how we always start with certain assumptions, like math is math everywhere. We also assume that language represents a linearity of time. (SPOILER) For the aliens, it wasn’t.

Where did all the spacemen go?

My rant in this blog is this. Hard-core science fiction seems to be disappearing. Hollywood is producing some great films but the literature is sadly lacking.

The golden age of science fiction became eclipsed when some of the best writers (Clark, Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, among others) died off. While other great writers have risen to fill these giants’ shoes, the emphasis is all too often more on aliens. In mediocre fiction, we see a lot of these plot lines.

Fill-in-the-blank-hero is facing Fill-in-the-blank alien and the two races are on the brink of, or already at, war. Will he/she survive?

Or

In a universe filled with fill-in-the-blank, Fill-in-the-blank-hero is the Chosen One to unite the races and fight back the forces of evil.

These tried and true plots are becoming as tried-and-tired as unimaginative vampire stories.

Whereas these books might be well written and enjoyable, they don’t really use science as the moving force. Yeah, they feature unexplained interstellar flight and zap guns, but the science serves more of a backdrop than a critical part of the story.

Where Is My Flying Car?

I get it. The dream of space travel at best has become a humdrum reality or at worst a lost opportunity as the space program suffers from a lack of funding. However, let’s encourage writers to go back to the ideas of owning flying cars, exploring new planets, working with interesting biology, and more. Let’s use science as an integral part of the story. Maybe we can start thinking beyond the limits of Earth and time. Yes, dangers await, but at least we will embrace that aspect of the human spirit that wants to dream, expand, and explore again.

Post note: I realize my knowledge of recent science fiction books may be limited. So, dear reader, if you have any books to suggest, please leave the title in the comments. I would love to have some recommendations.