I keep telling people that I can’t handle anything right now except completely escapist reading and miniseries — the sci-fi I teethed on, the fantasies and Sherlock Holmes pastiches and Marvel action movies.
Except. I’m not at all sure it’s escapism. Sometimes it seems like reframing.
There’s a monologue written by J. Michael Straczynski, spoken at the end of the third season of the shoestring-budget, turned-showrunner’s-hair-white cable series Babylon 5. Prosthetic aliens, space station, plywood star-fighter ships, all of that.
Straczynski grew up in a horror show like you read about. Superhero comics were his only escape; if you want a hair-raising read, pick up his memoir Becoming Superman. There was not a sound mind or a moral compass anywhere in his birth family (I could relate). Superman became his role model instead — someone who always used his power to help, did the right things, saved the desperate, thwarted the cruel and destructive. Full circle, JMS went on to write for the comic in the 80s and 90s, after writing for more TV shows than I can count, and eventually came up with Babylon 5, which at heart is a parable about how much individual choices matter. Some other guy isn’t always going to fix it. Apt in any time, critical in times like these. It’s been pointed out a good many times that J. K\. Rowling was doing something similar with her Potter books.
Here’s the Narn ambassador G’Kar, a complex character (brought to life by the amazing character actor Andreas Katsulas, of blessed memory) who evolves from hedonistic buffoon to prophet, speaking over the end credits of the pivotal third season:
“G’Quon wrote, There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way.
The war we fight is not against powers and principalities – it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender.
The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation.
No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.”
Here we are, I think. This is going to hurt for a long while. for the rest of our lives really, and I only hope that the world learns something about the important of choices.
I recommend the whole series. The writers of space opera and comics and invented-world fantasies and children’s books have gifts for us.