“Science fiction makes me want to vomit,” my mother once said to me. I completely understood what she meant. Don’t get me wrong, the genre is one of my favorites. But for someone prone to motion sickness, a consummate landlubber—someone who loves the dirt, green, growing things, the sunlight, walking barefoot, the scent of water—the idea of hurtling through space in a small metal coffin (ahem, shuttle) would be pure torture. Yet, despite knowing full well that I never want to be an astronaut or a pilot in real-life, I enjoy science fiction stories with great enthusiasm.

The futuristic scenarios are so intriguing, they are either presented as dystopias or reveal themselves to be. Human frailty and emotion eluding the cleverest strategists, the tiniest cracks suddenly appearing in the sleekest modern forms—questioning, censoring, sometimes even destroying that alluring technological advancement in all its glory. Some may call me a “nerd” or an “escapist”, but my feet are firmly anchored to the ground. I may be a dreamer, a star gazer, but I still wake up to the harsh light of day. I still get lost in the minutiae of daily life and social politics, tedious problems we can never ever seem to escape, no matter how hard we try—not even in any good fantasy story we can conjure. Perhaps science is the one crucial step that could bridge those intriguing, paradoxical gaps between the real and the fictional. Though wisdom and ethics have continually proven that they are just as important in stabilizing that bridge for crossing.

alightcirclewebsitestrangenewworld3blackwhitempbaeckerI have found an exciting new pleasure in reading the science news, especially when it concerns exploring outer space or other planets. The articles themselves provide ample information and interesting new theories, but what really fascinates me are the comments sections. I always read the article and quickly scroll down to read all the comments. I admit there are some stupid and crazy threads, even by any standard of magical thinking, but what I often find can be as satisfying as coins on a sidewalk. Whenever I feel depressed, numb, or powerless to deal with current events in the news, or the eternally unfair outcomes of unjust and bloody histories, I just read the comments sections of science articles about exploring outer space or other planets. Whenever people begin to think about these particular subjects, they almost always take on a very different perspective than they do in daily life: they take the long-view.

alightcirclewebsitestrangenewworldblackwhite9mpbaeckerJust the idea of leaving Earth challenges us in so many fundamental ways. It forces us to take a step back from ourselves as individuals—to take a step back from everything—to observe humanity as a whole, and try to foresee where we could be headed. We begin to ask ourselves how we could develop the capability to leave our world behind. If we could ever improve our technologies or knowledge, if we could ever solve global problems, heal old wounds, replace obsolete or ineffective systems, challenge entrenched world orders—if we could ever become better, if we could ever rise to meet the demands of leaving our planet, the demands of leaving everything we know, of leaving home as we know it. We take the long-view of time—not just in hundreds of years, but in thousands, in millions—of light years and millennia. We wonder if we could ever outgrow the conditions of a world that made us—so fundamental, so necessary, so nurturing—now restricting and stifling in the face of our ever-growing ambitions.
alightcirclewebsitestrangenewworld4blackwhitempbaeckerWe wonder if aliens exist. And if we were to meet them, would they kill us or subjugate us? As we have done, so cruelly and consistently with each other, those we deem inferior. We desperately look for exceptions to the rules. We look for new ways to understand and rewrite the rules. No man-made wall has ever proven so impenetrable, so completely and perfectly impenetrable as insurmountable distance. Nothing has proven our absolute ineptitude quite like the unconquerable vastness of time and space.

Perhaps it seems quite cold and harsh that I would enjoy such musings. But I take great pleasure in imagining the most arrogant, most self-righteous a**holes being humbled and confounded by the immensity of space. Like death, it is a truly leveling concept. When I look up at the stars it is like a wave that runs through me, reverberating along my spine and fingertips. It is the smallest sense of what I don’t know, of what we don’t know, and it is vast. As vast as space itself.

alightcirclewebsitestrangenewworld6blackwhitempbaeckerText and images by M.P. Baecker

Photographs are of the greenhouses at Berlin Botanical Garden, a recent visit there inspired this post.

17 thoughts on “Strange New Worlds

  1. Ah yes, the science news comments, where the raw ideas are just thrown onto a slate wall in colors so bright one can’t help but to muse over them, pick one at a time or try to put those those ideas together like a puzzle. Then again, some of those folks are stark crazy. I have never been able to bring myself to read contemporary science fiction and fantasy novels. I find both of them to be too easy. There are some exceptions where concepts become more important than fascinating the reader with so many fantastical things.

    Writing science fiction, as I recently discovered, brings me a strange sadness. I suppose it is because I would never live long enough to know whether it will ever be possible for us venture so far. Thanks for the post, it was nice to visit before returning to the hum-drum

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    • Your comment made me smile! Your honesty is so refreshing!

      I am always looking for new ways to think about old problems, or ways to not think about things in dichotomies at all. Those raw colors on that slate wall, as bright, as strange and as crazy as they may be–they also give me a clear idea of the position of the person who is hurling them at the unknown.

      I do find much science fiction, or popular fiction for that matter, to be too simplistic myself. It often seems like the same everyday soap opera scenarios just dressed up in spacesuits in a spaceship instead of normal clothes in a house. That’s one of the reasons that motivate me to write my own! I hope to bring more complex and nuanced science fiction to the table. That is intriguing that writing science fiction makes you sad. One of the things that I love about the future is that is always open and unpredictable, but like you, I do wish I could see it too! However, I see writing science fiction as an exercise in what could happen, not what should happen.


  2. Your new post (which is WONDERFUL!) reminded me that I was whisked away by reality as I finished “Strange New Worlds” and never gave you my thoughts! Because it speaks to me so distinctly I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to revisit it. 😊

    I didn’t think the ending was cold at all, but illuminating! To think of the “a**holes,” as you framed them, shuddering at the immensity of the universe, well, that made me smile. But it also made me think: do they really shudder, or even understand? I think most of the arrogant and self-righteous tend to think of humanity, and Earth, as all there is, despite the evidence. We create fictions, as Harari calls them, in an attempt to emphasize our own importance. We are “chosen” by a creator as the be-all and end-all of the universe. Those who follow that illogic don’t consciously worry about “aliens” (except the terrestrial ones, all too much) because they are communally convinced of divine providence. That’s all fine and well until that very conviction leads immediately back to the arrogance that can harm our own planet and its populace, which it so often does.

    I could go on and on. 😂

    Thank you for another amazing entry! I am currently digesting “Open Ended” and will share my thoughts on it, as well, soon. Forgive my loquaciousness!


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    • Dear Tom,

      Thanks so much (as always) for your lovely words and encouragement! Your thoughts are always welcome and reading your work is very inspiring to me!
      I am glad that my newest work resonates with you! I often wonder if it is possible to introduce or communicate a “new” idea to anyone at all? As you say, about the A**holes “do they really shudder, or even understand?” It’s something that I wrestle with all the time: if someone is not open to an idea or if they don’t “get it” themselves, is it possible to make them see in a new perspective or convince them before it’s too late, before they destroy humanity, civilization as we know it? Do we always have to learn everything the hard way? Perhaps it will always be beyond anyone’s power. But I will continue to describe my truth with hope. I am thankful that I get to exercise my brain and challenge myself in this way, which is very rewarding when I have awesome readers like yourself!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your insightful and witty comment! I had to smile at this one!

      I wonder how we could always have the longview in our perspective, like my driving teacher used to say, “always keep your eyes moving, not fixed, or you loose awareness before you even realize it.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This post shed new light on something I recently thought more about. I too love science fiction stories, especially their innate thrill of discovery. However, I could not live anywhere other than the complicated, messy planet we exist on with its green trees, blue waters, and snow-capped mountains. There’s something so precious about those things to me. Thank you for raising some interesting questions about not only the genre, but also our perspectives about Earth and the universe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your insightful comment! You put it so well! I also doubt I could or would want to live anywhere but on Earth! The thoughts that you shared made me think of Carl Sagan just now, what he said in the Pale Blue Dot concerning Earth seen from outer space: “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love (…) every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I used to be a die-hard fan of Isaac Asimov, I guess I still am. I appreciate science fiction when they don’t fly over the cuckoo’s nest, as in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy –(I’d rather while away reading Harry Potter et al). I quite liked Margaret Atwood’s stories, The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake series (I am still to read the rest of the trilogy). Your observations (and escape to) on the comments on scientific articles is delightful.

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    • Thanks so much for reading and for your sharp observations. I love all of those stories and writers you mentioned! I especially love the work of Octavia Butler and David Mitchell. Though they probably would be called “genre-defying”. Both writers add an incredible new dimension to sci-fi by exploring power dynamics, culture, race and focusing much more on human relationships and individual growth rather than relying heavily on explaining the strange new world or new technology. For me, that human element coupled with the strange/surreal is what its all about!

      I am currently writing a book in this vein…more about that later! Thanks again!

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    • Thanks for reading! It is amazing how quickly my own perspective changes and also exciting to observe it in other people! We’ve gone from being the center of the universe to being just a small part of it in the space of a few hundred years (in terms of scientific development) or in the space of a few seconds (in terms of a shift in perspective) 🙂
      Thanks for your lovely comment!

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