The little boy in the desk next to me in first grade insisted that there were other earths. I thought that the little boy was cute but crazy, and I went to the school library to investigate his strange claim. Yup, these things were called “planets” and they were real. Wow. Who would have thought. My attraction to him only lasted another month or so, but I have been fascinated by outer space and by science fiction ever since.
Today, I have a degree and years of work experience in the field of science. When it comes to reading and writing, science fiction is my first and greatest love, even though I am probably overly critical of sci-fi based on bad science. Mind you, I don’t object to no science. If the writer gives me a soul searching story of love and growth and in the process invokes a barely explained phenomenon called, I don’t know, whiskey holes and they are what allow the story to happen, I’ll go with it. I can suspend disbelief with the best of them. What I can’t handle is explanations that are just plain stupid or wrong.
For example: the Back to the Future movies. Fun, but such bad science. The universe doesn’t get unraveled by time travelers. People vanishing into nothingness as their adolescent parents consider not marrying does not fit with modern physics of the past fifty years. In fact, most of the time when the story involves either predicting the future, or traveling to the past or future, modern science gets thrown under the bus to accommodate improbable plots.
I’ve been pleased to run across a few television exceptions recently, and then been distressed to discover that the ratings people do not share my tastes. Last year I found the short lived show “Almost Human” to be a fascinating look at the near future. It brought both brains and heart to the question of when does artificial intelligence become a life form and not a machine. What a shame it was cancelled, while sillier shows with more action or name recognition were kept.
This year, I was dubious about a TV series based on “Minority Report”, an okay film of several years ago. The pilot episode quickly established that the writers had found a clever way to pick up the story years later. While some things, like clothing, show a suspicious lack of change, other elements like the ubiquitous advertising, are clever and ring true. Episodes are spiced with amusing references to the past, like the photo of Obama that shows up on the money.
The plot itself revolves around the three “precognitives” once used by the police to predict and stop murders before they happened. Freed and given new lives, the three precogs part ways in a believable fashion. One uses his gifts for wealth and pleasure, one remains hidden and fearful, and the third is driven to help people. This last precog, Dash, joins forces with a cop and is the hero of the series.
I gave the original movie bonus points for postulating that the near future is almost set in stone but not completely. The possibly that a would-be murderer might change his or her mind at the last minute is the basis of the famed minority reports that the police chose to ignore in the movie. In the TV version, this probability curve idea plays a larger role, as Dash and his newfound friends set out achieve a less likely outcome than murder, time after time.
I really like how there is no angst about altering timelines. No one starts to vanish into thin air because Dash has changed the future. The writers understand that a lot of different things can happen and only the most likely one is murder. I appreciate that the show keeps this clean and simple, much as I believe the universe does.
I was hopeful that this series would continue to provide intelligent food for thought about both our near future and about how seeing ahead into the future might work. However, once again whoever rates sci-fi shows on TV has different tastes. Ratings are low and falling according to a fascinating blog about science fiction TV likely to be cancelled. I don’t know how one goes about trying to save a show, but this post is my contribution. If you like thoughtful sci-fi and haven’t seen Minority Report yet, consider watching it. And if your TV set is one of the few used to determine what shows live and die, please, just turn it on to Fox on Monday night 9 PM EST. You’ll be doing the rest of us a big favor.