We constantly underestimate the power of fiction. It’s difficult to break into getting fiction published. It wasn’t always that way. When the pulps were still a thing often it took a thimble of talent and a handful of persistence. Publishers were looking for content and those with typewriters were clacking away as fast as they could. Ding! Carriage return. These days it’s harder. This came to mind in thinking about William Shatner’s trip to space and his subsequent reaction. As several news outlets said in anticipation of Shatner’s new book, the experience made him feel profoundly sad and not a little cold. So much empty space and we still haven’t figured out how to travel fast enough to reach our nearest neighbors. We don’t even know if we’ll like them when we meet them.
Others, in defense of space exploration, were quick to counter Shatner. He’s not a real astronaut, after all, having spent nine decades earth-bound. Or so they said. But I think I understand, as a fellow land-lubber, where he’s coming from. We’ve only really got one chance on this planet, being the only creatures evolved enough to type, to capture our thoughts—our essence—in words that can be preserved. And wildlife statistics are showing an alarming decrease in other animals since the 1970s. If we’re all that’s left and we can do no better than to elect fascists, well, stand me with Captain Kirk. We look to the skies and see, well, empty space. And besides, we need to get home because it’s supper time.
The reason Shatner got a free ride to space was, of course, fiction. Star Trek captured the imagination of my generation and those with actual science ability started to put that kind of future together. Today we can talk to computers and they still mishear us, often with laughable results. But if writers of fiction hadn’t been available the show would never have succeeded and what would a Canadian actor have had to do? Maybe a crime drama or two? And even those require writers. It seems to me that we should be encouraging fiction writers with talent. Believe me, I’ve read plenty who really haven’t got it (often in the self-published aisle) but I know firsthand how difficult it is to get fiction noticed. It’s like, to borrow an image, being blasted off into a dark, cold, empty space and looking at the blue orb below and wanting to be home for supper.