The Human Condition

September 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Science Fiction as a genre elicits wonderment through its examinations of what is possible if human beings were limited only by their imaginations.  I find it rather ironic that, through these works and discussions we have experienced so far, one of the genre’s most recurring and central themes seems to be a reaffirmation of the human condition itself.  The inescapable mortality and doom which we face the moment we become a part of this world.

I first examine “Nightfall,” Issac Asimov’s bleak work which many believe to be the crowning achievement of the science fiction genre to this day.  Our discussion broke down the story in order to gain insight into the characteristics of the science fiction genre itself.  How Asimov’s choice of a reporter as his main character was key to establish the believability of the world he was describing.  One aspect of the story which was only brought up at the end of the discussion, however, was the dark way in which the short story concluded, and the inherent repercussions that such an ending elicits.  It was these repercussions, in particular, which I felt missed our central attention.  The fact that these characters, who more than any other group in the world, understood and were prepared for the darkness approaching their world were still brought to their knees in madness as the apocalypse arrived is particularly troubling for me.  Asimov chose a genre in which anything is achievable through technology to tell a story about an ability to escape nothing.

Even if one disregards Asimov’s ending as a simple plot device, with doom being a more exciting conclusion to a story than salvation, I would argue that our examinations of time travel works in the past two weeks only further demonstrates this inescapability.  First consider the implications of time travel itself.  I would argue that time is the most fundamental and important resource in the universe which we are aware of.  Given enough time, all amounts of wealth, any magnitude of power, and limitless knowledge are obtainable, and as a result are essentially meaningless.  Fortunes only hold value specifically because they are confined to a definite expanse of time.  Thus the notion of time travel, of being a master of this resource, yields a power which dwarfs that of any other weapon we can imagine.

Having established this notion, examine some of the works we have read recently which feature this plot device.  No matter which paradox is examined, all lead to the same bleak conclusion which “Nightfall” reached.  Larry Niven’s “All the Myriad Ways” ends with a notion that having the ability to traverse time solves nothing about the human condition which we experience during our lives.  It can only take away the sense of purpose which our mortality gives. For though our “human condition” dooms us, without it our lives hold no purpose at all.  I think Asimov would be happy in knowing we found as much excitement in our own adventures as we did in his.

-A.M.A.

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