The year 2013 may turn out to be the year that science-fiction transformed my writing.
Changes began to show up with spring cleaning in Portland, Oregon. A neighbor hit me off with an enormous cache of DVDs -- 60 or so -- dominated by titles like Blade Runner, The Terminator and The Matrix, familiar and beloved stuff. I had previously been hunkered down on a screen treatment of my story about the pitcher who tossed a no-hitter while on LSD, and with each DVD viewing the narrative in my head took on a new otherworldly dimension.
Next, a Fresno friend turned me on to Adventure Time, the terrific animated show that runs on Cartoon Network. The heedless lust for thrilling escapades of Adventure Time's lead characters took me still further into a wormhole.
Nevermind the no-no; the cinematic equivalent of a perfect game began dancing in my head. I was on a Harlan Ellison high, inebriated by alien anecdotes, when day-job related reasons brought a half-remembered TV program to the forefront of my storytelling concerns.
The putative kids show is called Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. Captain Power debuted in 1987, my junior year of college, when I could not have been less interested in television that wasn't Late Night or Pee-Wee's Playhouse. The show, a futuristic mix of CGI and first-wave TV interactivity, lasted just 22 episodes. Now-quaint outcry over a toy tie-in was the only reason I knew the name Captain Power.
Turns out that if you were a sci-fi geek between, say, eight and 17, word was getting around about Captain Jonathan Power's post-apocalyptic battles against intelligent machines. These geeks sat agog, watching Power's tight-knit band of five throw on their mighty "Power Suits" and do battle with the techophile-turned-cyborg supervillain Lord Dread and his army of loyalist-led of sentient machines.
Kids from Vancouver to Santiago, from L.A. to Tokyo breathlessly followed the show's story lines -- many penned by Thor and Babylon 5 scribe J. Michael Straczynski. I know this because the aforementioned day job has put me in touch with these middle-age devotees through social media. The show, I have learned, changed a bunch of people's lives.
"Captain Power was my gateway drug to sci-fi," says Napoleon Dynamite producer Chris Wyatt.
At first, I only dutifully followed the captain's efforts to undermine Project New Order, via YouTube. (The show's CGI hadn't aged amazingly, and I wasn't yet that enamored of the genre.) But after the third or fourth Tweet or/and fan page comment lamenting Captain Power's final episode and its irreversible impact this or that fan's young psyche, I skipped ahead to that installment. My reaction to the end was, in a word:
Thing is, when a beloved character unexpectedly dies on Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, our being thrown off is couched in having been prepared by The Wire and The Sopranos and the general notion that we not watching TV, but HBO. Captain Power killed off arguably its most likable non-title character -- a love interest, at that. Not only were these sequences not HBO, this was Mattel-driven, Reagan-era children's television. Allegedly.
I decided to take a still-deeper look at the season, and what I found was Straczynski and company using a season's sustained narrative to flirt with prophecy. Again, I'm not the deepest sci-fi guy, but I know a li'l something. And it's hard to imagine much in the realm of predictive fiction that is more spot-on in its critique of our present relationship with technology.
Truth and fiction intertwine: While the NSA saga has played out, I've thought of Lord Dread's empowered machines. As the United States contemplated war with a potentially destabilizing attack on Syria, my mind again went to Jonathan Power's crew.
And I wrote. As this mind-blower from a quarter-century back prepares for its television return in the guise of a properly-mature Phoenix Rising, my comfort with the sci-fi genre is inching closer toward obsessive love. Perhaps I'm not as touched as those pubescent toy laser gun-wielders from back in the day, but the bracing of self for a possible future foretold is already upon me.