Priding myself of being ahead of the game in many regards (reading Watchmen as it came out in monthly chunks in the 1980s, listening to Dido’s No Angel CD on import before we all got heartily sick of it), I also often try to avoid things when they’re atop a wave of publicity, in the hope I can experience them without being distracted by the attendant hype.
Well, anyway, that’s my excuse for only recently having watched any of Battlestar Galactica. As recommended by pretty much anyone who likes it, I started with the mini-series (or backdoor pilot, as some people prefer to call it – oh, the cynicism), and I thought it was good stuff. I’m told, though, that the series meanders and rather loses focus a bit in the middle before coming to an unsatisfyingly deus ex machina ending – can anyone tell me if it’s worth pursuing?
The thing is, though, that whilst watching it, I didn’t feel that I was watching a science-fiction TV programme, but more a drama which happened to be set in space. Oh, sure, the conflict and drama was ultimately rooted in technology and the like, but the main focus is frequently on emotion and interaction, which is why I suspect it’s popular – the backdrop may be unfamiliar, but there are people loving and hating and scheming and being heroic in ways that all of us are familiar with. It’s probably the reason why Shakespeare’s plays are so popular and perennial, despite the changes in society – going even further back, it could well be why Jesus’s parables still resonate.
Anyway, it occurred to me that, in a broader sense, stories such as Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek are effectively contemporary dramas but with different sets and costumes; no matter what the setting, the story tends to find a wider audience when it doesn’t require an in-depth, in-universe knowledge of made-up interplanetary diplomacy, but instead shows people acting and reacting in ways which we could imagine we might.
So, taking this a thought-step further, it occurred to me that if the most successful SF is that which most resonates with our current emotional and interpersonal states, the same may well be true for fantasy, and indeed costume drama, which, though invariably set in the past, tends to deal with relationships and disputes which we all recognise. One example of a costume drama which went down very well in recent years was Bleak House, which emphasised the drama as much as the costume, and even played to our modern sensibilities by being presented in a format akin to that of a soap opera.
I say all this because it’s occurring to me that some story ideas I have could work just as well if I set them in the past or the future; my natural tendency is to set stories in the present day (I said earlier I’m prone to miss trends until they’re over – it may well be that I’m a New Puritan a decade late), but I’m now feeling that certain tales might be more effective if set in other eras, be they historical, imaginary or a combination of both.
Mind you, a combination of future and history, or science fiction and costume drama, isn’t impossible either; case in point, the forthcoming (and superbly-titled) film Pride and Predator…