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Friday, February 17, 2012

Protecting Our Dinosaurs

One of the worst criticisms a reviewer can level against a Science Fiction novel is to state that the characters and setting fail to undergo significant and lasting change.  This is because they see Science Fiction as the type of literature that most celebrates diversity and change.  Whether the characters fight off alien invaders, or work to prevent a mad scientist from profoundly changing the world, they argue that if the characters and setting revert to their former status at story's end, the book does not deserve to be labeled Science Fiction.  Instead, it belongs to a subset of mainstream literature with watered-down SF elements, and is referred to as a thriller, or described as merely SFnal.  While I understand such arguments, I cannot accept such a narrow definition of the fiction I love.

In the 1960s, the Doctor Who production team underwent a series of changes.  Producers and Script Supervisors came and went, in some cases after a single story.  At one point, those in charge decided that the first Doctor, William Hartnell, must leave the program, and drafted in Patrick Troughton as his replacement.  Those in charge of production during this later era largely abandoned the historical stories, and the stories tended to focus upon the Doctor defeating fearsome aliens and scary monsters.  Such a narrow focus took its toll.  By the end of the second Doctor’s reign, the BBC considered canceling the show.  Thankfully, they opted to continue, and injected new life into the program by grounding the Doctor on Earth.  Surrounded by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT), the third Doctor occasionally traveled to other planets, but mostly fought to unravel the plots of mad scientists, or to prevent aliens from invading Earth.  More than in any other incarnation, either previous or successive, the third Doctor (played by Jon Pertwee) worked to prevent significant change.  This was the role he played in the story “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” when he seeks to prevent the conspirators from activating their Timescoop a final time.  As much as he admires their vision of a more eco-friendly civilization, he cannot agree with their methods.  For while their device would protect everyone and everything within the immediate area as it transports the group and their supplies back to the time of the dinosaurs, not only would it eradicate those unprotected by the Timescoop, but also erase every person who has ever lived.

The colonists in “Terra Nova” face a similar challenge.  They cannot exert significant change upon their surroundings.  They must prevent any citizen, or breakaway group such as the Sixers, from decimating a particular species of animal or plant, over-utilizing any of the world’s resources, or polluting their environment.  To fail in this, or to prevent any industrialists from time-traveling back and wiping out such Paleozoic resources could bring catastrophic results.  In addition to destroying the colony’s long-term sustainability, such profound change could wreak havoc upon the timeline, wiping out or significantly altering all of human history.  Should this occur, their link to the future would be forever severed.  They would find themselves without access to modern technology, medicine, and other goods that allow them to share this world with the dinosaurs that rule the planet.  No more pilgrimages would join them.  They would be forever alone.

Lovejoy understands such concepts better than most.  His love for mankind’s unique creations is unparalleled.  In the TV series, and in the novels by Jonathan Gash, this dealer works to protect antiques from undergoing any change whatsoever.  He would be outraged if asked to modernize a centuries-old desk fashioned by a master craftsman.  He would be aghast if a client cleaned an antique without proper guidance.  He knows that the wrong chemicals, applied in an incorrect manner, can weaken or eradicate the unique patina bestowed upon wood, canvas, or other materials by time, leaving the artwork little different from today’s copies or reproductions.  This, like the third Doctor and Commander Taylor in Terra Nova, makes Lovejoy someone whose existence revolves around the prevention of change.  

We grow angry when our plans for change are dismissed.  Yet sometimes we should sit back and reflect upon the possible wisdom of those who work to prevent such changes from occurring.  For as grand as our visions might be, any change impacts others and affects our environment.  And all of us can be brittle, many times in ways we’re not aware of.  To alter or eradicate the dinosaurs upon which we depend might hurt us in significant ways, or even destroy us.  Sometimes, those who work to prevent any change from occurring are the most visionary of all.  

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