I sat down this morning to write an entry about the fact that Denver is supposed to be getting snow tomorrow. As I was trying to think of something clever to say (which becomes easier the more caffeine I have) the phrase “Winter is coming” popped into my head. Many of you will be familiar with that saying from George R.R. Martin’s phenomenal fantasy series (A Song of Fire and Ice) as well as the HBO series Game of Thrones based off the books. As I thought about that series and several of my other favorite epics like Patrick Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind, or Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, I started to try and come up with my favorite epic science fiction. That’s when I realized there really aren’t any except for Star Wars.
I love Star Wars (4,5 and 6) and have since I was a child. Those three movies are perfect blend of epic and science fiction. Over the years dozens of authors have added to Star Wars lore by writing countless books that have fleshed the Star Wars galaxy to a level I doubt even George Lucas was able to imagine (I am going to ignore episodes 1,2 and 3 out of spite). Having just finished the beta testing for Stars Wars Old Republic (which is an awesome game) I was reminded again just how wonderfully deep the story is. You probably have heard about the Hero’s Journey, a term created by Joseph Campbell, that often is used to describe Star wars, specifically Luke’s character arc. This same formula is very much found in most epic fantasies. The question becomes then, why this formula is not used more in science fiction.
Some might argue that Star Trek should be considered epic. I would disagree. Star Trek, though it is a great series, lacks that epic storyline that moves the galaxy around it. I love Star Trek in its many different flavors, but there is just something missing that makes it an epic. Through the many series and many writers adding hundreds of books it is a well drawn genre in its own right. I just feel that it falls short in the overarching quest that is found in Luke, Darth Vader and the battle between the Empire and Rebellion.
Arguments could also be made about Frank Herbert’s Dune series, but in some indefinable way I feel that Dune is also lacking some key piece to make it an epic story (I know, weak argument, but its my blog I can say what I want). When you really stop to think about it, the problem might be that much of the best science fiction is stand alone. If you look at NPR’s list of top 100 fantasy and science fiction, most of the best science fiction books are individual, not series. That is not to say that you can’t have an epic single novel, but I think an “epic” generally requires more than a single book for the story arc to play out.
I believe there is a lot of great world (or solar system, or galaxy, or universe) building done in science fiction see: Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, read: The Leviathan Wakes, Old Man’s War, Unincorporated Man, The Forever War, (plus too many others to list). All of these are great stories, but once again, not epic. As a side note I wonder if Firefly would have gone on to gain that status if Fox hadn’t cancelled it after a season.
Maybe part of the reason is that fantasy is the past. Fantasy is myth and our myths define us as a society, and so we need those heroic stories to give a basis of where we have come from. Whereas science fiction are stories of the future and what might be. Sci fi is the light house guiding us into the unknown future. It is easier to draw heroes from our past struggles than to imagine a hero’s journey that combats some future strife. Simply put, we need more epic science fiction. Because winter is coming, and we will need the force to see us through.