I love space. I am absolutely obsessed with outer space, exoplanets, and various other things that I don’t fully understand because I don’t science for a living or even go to school to learn how to science. But as someone who reads every science journal I can get my hands on about space and the possibility of extraterrestrial life, I think I’ve reached the point where I have at least a rudimentary understanding of things like gravity. Since I find science super fun, I’ve always been interested in exploring it through a fictional medium where I can vicariously travel to different planets and meet alien life. Stargate, Star Wars, Star Ocean, the new Star Trek movies—why do so many titles have Star in them?—and even Dark Matter and Jupiter Ascending are all right up my alley.
But one of the things that has always annoyed me about these stories is the lack of variety on the planets they go to visit. This is significantly less true for Star Wars and Star Trek, which feature a wide array of alien life and habitats, but in the end, the only way I can conclude that physics works the way it does in too many of these stories is because of magical plot convenience.
James Cameron’s Avatar disappoints me as a movie. Without a doubt, it’s a beautiful film that a lot of time and effort went into, but despite all that, the story falls flat in so many other areas. In terms of worldbuilding, the movie’s biggest crime is that none of the characters seem to realize that they’ve discovered the key to eternal life.
Outside Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events, I would say that Daughters of the Moon was most definitely one of my favorite series as a child. Lady Geek Girl introduced me to it back in middle school, and once I started the first one, I didn’t look back. I blew through every book that had been released in a matter of days. It had everything I wanted—multiple female protagonists from different backgrounds, a narrative steeped in Greek mythology and magic, and there were a large number of books to keep me interested. So of course I loved it. And one of the things that I enjoyed most about the story was the price that came from having magical abilities and what growing older meant for the characters. However, the writing itself fell flat more than once, and that detracted from what was potentially a really great message.
In fiction, characters don’t just die. Death always serves a greater purpose to the narrative. Even in total bloodbath stories like Game of Thrones or The Hunger Games, the myriad deaths are there to underscore the cruelty or randomness of life or the meaninglessness of war. Death informs our storytelling because it’s inescapable, and therefore holds a cultural fascination for us in a way that other life landmarks do not.
In stories where magic plays a role, death can still provide this commentary while also having tangible side effects for the living. One of these that I’ve noticed is that being party to death in some way can open a character’s eyes. Literally—death-adjacency can give people magical “true” sight that they had previously lacked. This ability, like anything involving death in fiction, is used to underscore the message of the narrative by providing some kind of insight to the characters and readers.
After rewatching Oliver & Company and The Fox and the Hound, I got to thinking how strange it would be if my cats were just as intelligent as the animals in Disney or Pixar. For many of us, talking animals were a big part of our childhood, and they have continued to be part of us well into adulthood. From live-action films like Homeward Bound to completely animated movies such as Bolt, these stories are a great way to teach audience members, particularly children, valuable life lessons. The Fox and the Hound teaches us about empathy and societal pressures, The Lion King tells us about growing up and taking responsibility even if we don’t want to, and Zootopia teaches us about inclusion and racism.
Even if all these movies are by no means perfect, the messages they want to teach us are pretty clear. However, very rarely do talking animal movies delve into topics like abuse and death. And let’s face it, the world is a really awful place for animals, and from an animal’s perspective, it must be rather horrifying to live here. Happy talking animal movies have their place, but as The Fox and the Hound lets us know, so do unhappy ones. And that brings me to Fluke, a live-action 1995 drama film.
Time travel is not my favorite storytelling trope, if only because if not done well it can leave a narrative more than a little confusing and hard to follow. This can especially be a problem when a narrative jumps around in time completely out of order and without warning, which is something that both Final Fantasy XIII and The Grudge did. This trope’s big crime, however, is that it all too often results in plot holes or creates events that either cannot happen or that nullify the importance of other events. Worse yet is when the time travel in question has no actual impact on the rest of the story and ends up being a pointless waste of time. A good example of this would be Star Ocean: The Last Hope, where Edge goes back in time to an alternate reality of Earth, blows it up, and the entire subplot serves no purpose other than to turn an otherwise generic protagonist into a detestable murderer.
That is not to say that time travel itself cannot be used well. Plenty of stories have utilized it in ways that improve their narrative and add to the plot and worldbuilding. There is, however, a wide chasm between creative and cliché, and for every good use of time travel, there’s a dozen or so bad uses.
In many fandoms these days, science and magic exist together with a variety of results. Sometimes magic and science exist in harmony, sometimes they are at odds, and sometimes magic is really just misunderstood science. There’s a whole plethora of ways these two forces can exist in the same world. But there isn’t always a narrative reason for it; oftentimes, magic and science simply exist together to cause drama or to add more interesting elements to a story. Which can be fine, but when a story involves both science and magic, it can be helpful for the writers to use these two forces to strengthen the overall message of the story. In Rick and Morty, science reigns supreme, but elements of magic still exist. In one notable episode called “Something Ricked this Way Comes”, in which Rick fights the devil, we see a continuing affirmation of the show’s philosophy of existential nihilism.