Going Nuts Over Realism
You know what?
I write sci-fi, and a lot of it is pretty outlandish. Hell, the last short story I wrote involved an alien bounty hunter discussing philosophy with a small-town sheriff (You can read it here). I've been writing these kinds of stories for a damn long time. Close to a decade, in fact.
In my travels as a fiction-person, I've come across one idea that influences the way we think about sci-fi more than any other. For some godforsaken reason, people think that science fiction, or indeed any fiction, must be plausible in our world. It must be realistic.
To hell with those people.
That sounds harsh because it is. I've seen countless authors, many of whom I respect both personally and professionally, perpetuate that myth. They think that everything happening in their story, even the magic, must be based entirely on the laws that govern our own, non-fictional world.
This mostly applies to physical things, like the speed at which Superman can fly. You see writers, but also the general public of geeks, say stuff like, "At that speed Superman would burn up and die. I call bullshit on that."
Well, I call bullshit on you. Superman doesn't have to pay attention to our laws of physics, because he's an alien. Also, he isn't real. None of this is. It matters a great deal to a lot of people, but it isn't real.
My point is, if you can tell interesting stories that make sense in the context of your own fictional universe, go nuts. Physics be damned.
Now, before you accuse me of being an Eigen apologist or whatever, listen to my final point on the subject. If you say that your story takes place in our world, then by all means, pay attention to physics and the like. But that's an element you include because you want to and not because you need to. Feel free to construct an entirely new universe solely for the purpose of your narrative. Again, go nuts.
But that's not really the kind of realism I wanted to talk about today. I wanted to discuss the character-centric part of realism. See, I love superheroes. I've written and spoken about them quite a bit, and there seems to be a particular push to make the men in tights as believable as possible.
And, in this case, I'm all for it.
You should always try to have your characters behave in interesting ways, and this includes typically ‘angsty’ things, such as real emotion. And, for the love of whatever magic man in the sky you've chosen to worship, make sure your dialogue sounds natural.
What I'm sick of is stories about how superheroes would really act.
I'm not against the idea in principle, far from it. I think examining the effects of Superman on the real world is an intensely interesting thought experiment. In that case, scientific, or physical, realism can definitely work, and even enhance the narrative. But again, include those things at your discretion.
My actual beef is with stories in which "realism" is merely an excuse for the characters to act like dicks to each other.
The Ultimate Marvel universe comes to mind as an example of this, but I'll focus on a more mainstream example for the purposes of this post. Luckily, it's one I've written about extensively before, both here and elsewhere.
That's right. We're talking about Man of Steel again. Buckle up, everyone.
In the film, Superman “saves the day” by snapping the villain’s neck. Now, you might say that this action was necessary to preserve the greater good. This is the same excuse many give for Superman’s total and complete destruction of his adopted home, Metropolis. I disagree, but whatever. We’re all entitled to our own opinions, meaning you are perfectly allowed to be wrong, evil and an all-around terrible person who has no right to life. Isn’t freedom of speech awesome?
I’ve already discussed the problems with that definition of morality, at least as it relates to Superman, so let’s move on. I have a real problem with the idea that Superman would be a power-hungry tyrant in the real world. The idea that he would snap and enslave us all is nuts to me. It’s not that I don’t believe he could do it. In fact, I know he can. If it weren’t for Batman, anyway. The issue is that he wouldn’t do something like that, because he is fucking Superman. He’s a shining beacon of hope. He is, pure and simple, a good guy.